The nonprofit Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) is working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Rio Puerco Field Office to enhance the beauty of El Malpais National Conservation Area through the El Malpais Community Arts Program. The BLM says on its website that they have “invited artists from El Malpais’ surrounding areas to participate in a unique collaboration: to create a narrative connection between art and land stewardship, history, culture, and land conservation.”
This dramatic landscape of lava fields and sandstone arches is a place that has drawn visitors for centuries and now when they start their journey at the recently remodeled El Malpais BLM Ranger Station, they will be greeted with sculptures, murals, and other art created by area artists that reflect the “history, culture, art, and landscape of El Malpais.” The ranger station is located 9 miles South on Hwy 117, near Grants in New Mexico.
The El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) surrounds the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field and includes dramatic sandstone cliffs, canyons, La Ventana Natural Arch, Chain of Craters Back Country Byway, Joe Skeen Campground (10 free, no-reservation campsites), the Narrows Picnic Area, and the Cebolla and West Malpais Wilderness Areas. There is also access to the Continental Divide Trail within the NCA. Visitors can enjoy hiking, camping, picnicking, nature study, and much more within this unique landscape.
Visits to this area didn’t begin with Spanish explorers; Indigenous people were here for more than 10,000 years making use of the plants, animals, and mineral resources they found. The BLM website explains, “More than mere artifacts, these cultural resources are kept alive by the spiritual and physical presence of contemporary Native American groups, including the Ramah Navajo and Puebloan peoples of Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni. These tribes continue their ancestral uses of El Malpais including gathering plant materials, paying respect, and renewing ties.”
Call for Artists
PLIA regularly offers calls for submissions of work from artists who live in the surrounding areas of El Malpais National Conservation Area. Art should highlight the beauty of El Malpais and its surrounding area. Artists can check for upcoming submission deadlines here.
The El Malpais Community Art Program provides several opportunities each year for area artists to exhibit their works for the public to enjoy. In August of 2023, a program was held featuring the work of three artists whose displayed works focused on the themes of land stewardship and conservation. The work was exhibited at the BLM ranger station for the El Malpais NCA.
Throughout the year, calls for artists will be released, asking artists to submit proposals for new artworks. Artists whose proposals are selected will receive a stipend to create the pieces, which will then be permanently displayed at the ranger station.
This project is an innovative approach to working with local Indigenous communities to acknowledge the history and culture of the area and to build stronger bonds with the people who live here. This project also enhances the visitor experience so that people can better understand this unique landscape through art and visual storytelling.
Each cycle of artists will include an event where the art is unveiled, the artists will speak about their work, and visitors can meet the artists and enjoy their pieces, then visit the El Malpais National Conservation Area.
About El Malpais National Conservation Area
The El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) was established in 1987 to protect nationally significant geological, archaeological, ecological, cultural, scenic, scientific, and wilderness resources surrounding the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field. El Malpais translates to “the badlands” in Spanish.
Normal operating hours are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Ranger Station is located 9 miles south of I-40 Exit 89 (Quemado) on NM Highway-117.
About the Public Lands Interpretive Association
The Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) is a 501 c(3) nonprofit that supports public lands in Arizona and New Mexico through education and service.
PLIA partners with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to develop and sell educational publications, products and maps at visitor center and office stores, operates campgrounds in the Kaibab National Forest, and provides visitor information at the Public Lands Information Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Top image: Artist Marissa Irizarry.
Images courtesy PLIA.