El Malpais Community Arts Program: Exciting Opportunities
El Malpais artist Artist Marissa Irizarry

In partnership with the Rio Puerco Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the nonprofit  Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) aims to enrich the aesthetic appeal of the El Malpais National Conservation Area through its El Malpais Community Arts Project. The BLM mentions 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.”

An exhibit being installed at the El Malpais Ranger Station.
An exhibit being installed at the El Malpais Ranger Station.

This visually stunning environment, characterized by its lava terrains and sandstone vaults, has attracted sightseers for generations. Now, when they start their visit at the recently upgraded El Malpais BLM Ranger Station, they’ll discover various forms of artwork, such as frescoes and sculptures, made by artists from the region that encapsulate the “history, culture, art, and landscape of El Malpais.” Situated 9 miles to the south along Highway 117, the station is conveniently located near Grants, New Mexico.

The El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) encompasses the Zuni-Bandera volcanic fields. This area includes features towering sandstone bluffs, deep canyons, the La Ventana Natural Arch, and attractions such as the Chain of Craters Back Country Byway and Joe Skeen Campground, which has 10 complimentary campsites available without prior reservation.

Within the boundaries of the NCA, you’ll also find the Narrows Picnic Area and the wilderness sectors of Cebolla and West Malpais Wilderness Areas. The area additionally serves as a gateway to the Continental Divide Trail, offering recreational activities like trekking, camping, alfresco dining, and nature study in this unparalleled setting.

Long before the Spaniards set foot in the region, Indigenous cultures were here, having been living off the land for more than 10,000 years while utilizing its abundant natural and mineral resources. As stated on the BLM’s online website, “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 Area Artists

Artist Walter Torres creating a sculpture to be on display in the parking lot at the El Malpais NCA Ranger Station.
Artist Walter Torres creating a sculpture to be on display in the parking lot at the El Malpais NCA Ranger Station.

Area sculptors were recently given a chance to send in plans for a sizeable sculpture set to be located in the parking facility of the ranger outpost, and the commission went to Acoma artist Walt Torres. The sculpture’s construction is currently in progress at the Ranger Station.

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.

Frequent opportunities are offered by the El Malpais Community Art Program for local artists to publicly display their artworks. An event held in August 2023 spotlighted contributions from three artists with an emphasis on themes like environmental conservation and land care. This artwork was featured at the El Malpais NCA’s BLM ranger station.

Calls for artistic proposals will be issued at intervals during the year. Artists whose plans are greenlit will obtain a stipend for crafting their artworks, which will thereafter be permanently showcased at the ranger facility.

This venture takes an innovative approach by collaborating with local Indigenous communities. It acknowledges the area’s historical depth and culture while strengthening relations with the local populace. The project additionally enriches the experience for visitors, allowing them a more nuanced understanding of this unique region through artistic and visual interpretation.

Each cycle dedicated to new artists will host an unveiling ceremony. During these events, artists will discuss their works, interact with visitors, and offer a chance for the public to appreciate their creations before venturing into the El Malpais National Conservation Area.

About El Malpais National Conservation Area

Founded in 1987, the El Malpais National Conservation Area (NCA) exists to preserve a wide array of critical resources linked to the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field. This includes important geological, archaeological, ecological, cultural, scenic, scientific, and wilderness elements. The name “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.

Learn more about the El Malpais National Conservation Area here.

About PLIA

The Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) functions as a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity focused on enhancing public lands in both Arizona and New Mexico through educational efforts and service activities.

In alliance with the Bureau of Land Management as well as the U.S. Forest Service, PLIA produces and retails educational books, merchandise, and maps available at visitor centers, their online store, and in agency offices. Additionally, it oversees campgrounds in the Kaibab National Forest and offers visitor guidance at the Public Lands Info Center located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Learn more about PLIA here.

Top image: Artist Marissa Irizarry.

Images courtesy PLIA.


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Posted by LasCruces.com

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