GSMNP offers Artist-in-Residence Program

January 8, 2021

Summers End by Nancy Hershberger

by Julie Dodd

Artists who would like to be inspired in their work by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can apply to a unique program to be selected for the Artist-in-Residence Program for 2021.

Selected artists stay “in residence” in the park for 4-6 weeks – exploring the park, creating art, talking with rangers, meeting with other artists, and sharing their art in workshops and presentations.

“They have that time to experience the park, to explore the park, and to do reflective work,” said Ranger Sheridan Roberts, Parkwide Volunteer Coordinator who directs the Artist-in-Residence Program.

GSMNP is one of several national parks that offers an Artist-in-Residence (AIR) Program. The GSMNP Artist-in-Residence Program, which is funded by Friends of the Smokies, is open to artists who work in a range of mediums.

Fiber artist Nancy Hershberger created a Water Dance series of quilts. The quilt at the top of the post is “Summer’s End” at The Sinks. The quilt above is “Beside Still Waters,” a view along US 441 to Newfound Gap.

Photographers, painters, musicians, writers and more

“We’ve hosted photographers and painters but also storytellers, musicians, writers and poets,” Roberts said.

Roberts coordinates the artist selection process and assists the artists who are selected during their residency. She arranges meetings and hikes for artists with rangers or visits to GSMNP resource locations, such as Twin Creeks Science Center or the National Park Service Collections Center in Townsend.

Each artist is asked to donate an original work inspired by their residency within one year upon completion of the residency. Donated works are considered for the NPS Collections Center or auctioned by Friends of the Smokies to raise funds for park needs.

The residency includes a furnished apartment inside park boundaries and reimbursement for materials and expenses up to $300.

The artists are enrolled in the National Park Service Volunteers-in-Parks program and share their art experiences with park visitors or local community members. Artists may lead a workshop, perform, make a presentation, or do a demonstration.

The artist also has the opportunity to collaborate with Arrowmont School of Art and Crafts, a partner of the Artist-in-Residence Program.

Application process

The application deadline is open now until March 31, 2021. Typically 60-70 artists apply, Roberts said. More than one artist typically is selected for each year’s residence program.

COVID-19 has caused some modifications to the Artist-in-Residence Program to protect the health of the artists. The 2020 Artists in Residence didn’t lead workshops or make group presentations. Not all of the four artists in 2020 stayed for a month residency, and not all the artists had housing in the park.

To apply, the artist must submit a résumé, a summary of creative works, and samples of their work. In addition, the artist must write a statement of purpose for the residency: What do you hope to gain through time spent at Great Smoky Mountains National Park? How might you share your insight, experience and creative contribution with park visitors and people of the local community? (Click to read more about the application process.)

“The thing I look at most closely is their statement of purpose,” Roberts said. “How does this individual envision using their creative medium to illuminate the park story? Will their work resonate with audiences through printed materials, ranger talks and the park’s newspaper? How can they draw new connections with visitors and local communities?”

A jury of representatives from GSMNP and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts reviews submitted materials and interviews top candidates. Selections are made on the basis of merit and the artist’s understanding of the mission of the National Park Service and the park’s interpretive themes.

Artists in Residence 2019 and 2020

The 2019 artists in residence have submitted their completed artwork to the park. Four of the artists have written guest blog posts for Friends of the Smokies about their Artist in Residence experiences.

The 2020 artists have completed their residency in the park and now are continuing their artwork.

Diana Woodcock poetry
Poetry inspired by Diana Woodcock during her 2019 artist residency was published in The Tiny Seed Literary Journal.

“Their art makes a richer experience for visitors and the community,” Roberts said. “The artists also can help us get the messages of the park outside the park to people who can’t come to the park.”

You can learn more about the GSMNP Artist in Residence program by viewing a video about the program.


Friends of the Smokies has set a goal of raising $2,200 to support the Artist-in-Residence Program for 2021.

You can make a donation to that program.

Read about the artists’ experiences during their GSMNP residency —Nancy Hershberger and Phoenix.