Southwest Tour: Part I

We’ve decided to post this as a serial because there’s so much to tell!

Four weeks, six states, sixteen artist residencies and countless inspiring people and experiences made up the Southwest tour. The desert’s magic and warmth really resonated with us, as well as the people who live there, and the drive back home was a reluctant one. Every space was unique and we are so excited about all of them. A question asked a lot is, “Which residency has been your favorite so far?” And we can say with the utmost sincerity that every single residency has been our favorite.

And so begins our second trip. After another great fundraiser party (thank you again to everyone who participated and came to the event!) and a dreamy day of sailing around the bay with collaborator and friend, Kelly Gregory, we packed, re-packed and set off in Alicia’s trusty Subaru, Stella. Stella weaved us in and out of red rock canyons, expansive desert landscapes and mountainous terrains through California to Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.


First stop: L.A. where we spent time with artist and old friend, Britt Acocelli and visited Women’s Center for Creative Work. We met with Managing Director Sarah Williams. Sitting by the L.A River on a bright afternoon, we talked about the mission and structure of the not-for-profit creative space. WCCW, founded in 2013, is a co-workspace that facilitates projects cultivating feminist creative communities and practices in L.A. WCCW houses the Feminist Library on Wheels (F.L.O.W.), has residency programs and expansive resources including a full calendar of community events. A group of women who are doing really cool, important things!


While in L.A., the Museum of Jurassic Technology was on our list of places to visit and it did not disappoint. It’s unlike any museum you’ve ever been to. Through maze-like rooms that just seem to keep expanding there is a wonderful emporium of magical objects, curiosities and oddities. Ending with tea and cookies on a sunny rooftop, doves cooing and flying around, you feel as if you traveled to another country, time, or reality and completely forget about actually being on bustling Venice Boulevard. 

Still in a magical haze from the Museum, we head to Escondido, 30 miles Northeast from San Diego, to meet with RJ Brooks - co-founder of Ship in the Woods (or WSOHOIDPS). It was RJ’s birthday and the house was bustling with activity and celebration when we arrived. Ship in the Woods is a volunteer-run space that has a residency program, houses interdisciplinary projects and creative events such as performances and interactive installations. During our stay, we got to test out the Rhodopsin project where the audience sitting in complete darkness, gets exposed to a bright flash of light, creating a clear after image almost like a photograph in your retina. This collaborative project between Ship in the Woods, a neurobiologist and sound artist is just one example of how the space combines art, science and new media. 


Warner Springs was our next destination to meet with Nina Karavasiles – co-founder of potential residency space called Just Shift. Partner Julie McConnell and Nina have come up with plans for a short-term residency that focuses on environmental stewardship and education. We toured the grounds and spoke to Nina about her vision for the program’s future. There is a lot of potential for Just Shift and we are excited to see what they have in store!  

We made a necessary stop at Salvation Mountain and The Salton Sea, both unique and fascinating places. At Bombay Beach we stopped for a beer and grilled cheese at Ski Inn, where we played music on the jukebox and talked about The Beach Boys with the chatty bartender. Most of the bar’s surface is covered in signed dollar bill signs (look for Piney’s when you’re there!) After our dinner, right at sunset, we ran along the fishbone-crusted beach of Salton Sea, the smell of decaying fish filling the air.


Our first camping night was spent right outside of Joshua Tree National Park and the next morning we went hiking and exploring through the park. Desert flora, spiky otherworldly trees and impressive rock formations creates a surreal landscape. After a couple of hours of scrambling up and down rocks we arrived to the fun and unique town of Joshua Tree. We browse through some thrift stores and find ourselves at a really unique arts compound run by Shari Elf, where there is awesome silkscreened art and Carolina drooled over the World Famous Crochet Museum.


We then made our way to Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency. JTHAR is a residency program adjacent to the National Park where artists can live in one of the five homes located on five acres of inspiring land. Amongst scurrying lizards, desert wildflowers and panoramic mountain views, residents can work undisturbed on their projects. When we entered the 900-sq-ft studio with large windows overlooking this unique high desert terrain, we both instantly felt creative and inspired. 


Near the eastern edge of Death Valley National Park, in southern Nevada, is the ghost town of Rhyolite. This was our next destination to find Goldwell Open Air Museum and talk to Richard Stephens, the President of the museum. Richard told us about the history of the residency program and the town, played a beautifully eerie song on a flute he made, and shared some really incredible stories with us. The museum began in 1984 by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski who felt the expansive Amargosa Desert was evocative of the “holy land” and created a giant ghostly “Last Supper” installation. Continuing with Albert’s artistic exploration of the land, Goldwell offers residency and workspace programs for artists. 


At this point on our trip, we are already feeling entranced by the land and energized by all the stories we are hearing … But there are still 11 more residencies left to go! Stay tuned for the next post where we talk about more artist spaces, camping / hiking, and meeting new and old friends throughout the Southwest.


- Piney