mcginnisLeah McGinnis is the Superintendent at Capitol Reef National Park. On Friday June 6, 2014, McGinnis provided a exciting overview of what she viewed as the relationship between Capitol Reef National Park and the Arts. This speech was part of the culminating activities associated with the Arts and the Park event co-sponsored by the Entrada Institute.

Below is a transcript of this talk.


Good evening. My name is Leah McGinnis and I am the Superintendent at Capitol Reef National Park. I have been here for about one year now and I am so very excited about this new event. I worked at the Grand Canyon for 13 years prior to moving to Torrey and one of my favorite events over the last 5 years while I was there was the “Celebration of Art”. A Celebration of Art showcases art that is created over a week- long plein-air event of artists painting throughout the Grand Canyon. This event brought an electricity to the atmosphere over the years as employees and visitors watched beautiful pieces of art being created in front of their eyes. They were in constant awe of the different ways in which artist interpreted the same views. It was fun to feel that same excitement in Capitol Reef today. It made me happy to see you all painting along the road as I drove down.

I want to sincerely thank the Entrada Institute for embracing the Arts in the Parks idea and having the courage to make it happen. The list of partners they were able to assemble to make this happen is truly impressive. I want to especially thank Marci Milligan for the tremendous amount of time and energy she put into this event. She made it fun and exciting. Marci, I have really enjoyed working with you.

I also want to thank the artists for your very special role in creating the images that we all get to oh and awe over. Without you we don’t have an event. Thank you for your time, energy and talent.

I would like to recognize Shirley Torgerson, Executive Director and Diana Elmer, Chief of Operations for the Capitol Reef Natural History Association. The CRNHA is the official non-profit partner of Capitol Reef National Park. They support science and education programs for the park through bookstore sales at the Visitor Center and sales at the Gifford House of hand-crafted items reminiscent of the Mormon Pioneer days and fresh baked goods including the ever popular Capitol Reef pies! Thank you for joining the park in support of the Entrada Institute and this event.

The role of art in the National Park Service

Artists have created art in national parks since the late 19th century when famed Hudson River painters captured the majestic views of our nation’s western parks.  Their romanticized landscape paintings conveyed a heightened experience of beauty that engendered awe.

Thomas Moran’s watercolor titled Canon of the Colorado, Utah Territory form 1873 conveys the sublime nature of the Canyonlands of Utah.  In 1889 Thomas Moran was commissioned by the Santa Fe Railway to create images of Western parks to encourage easterners to travel west.

Frederick Dellenbaugh in the early 1900’s opened the eyes of the world to southwestern Utah when he created a series of Zion Canyon paintings for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri – people could hardly believe such a place was real.

Howard Russell Butler’s work of Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon National Park in the 1920’s was commissioned by the Union Pacific Railroad to promote tourism.  His work was used to excite Americans and to motivate them to travel to their national parks.

Gunnar Widfors best known for his watercolor images of Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park, met then NPS Director, Stephen Mather in Yosemite in the early 1920’s. Each quickly came to see that they had something great to offer the other. Mather would give Widforss outstanding advice and connections and Widforss had the ability to provide stunning visual depictions of America’s Wonderlands and give form to Mather’s vision of the national parks as playgrounds for all Americans.

Artists and their art have opened the eyes of America, and the world, to our National Parks and to the need to preserve them.  Millions of people from across America and every part of the world are lured by the desire to experience firsthand, what they initially viewed on paper, on canvas or on the screen.  Images of these majestic places continue to entice travelers to what can be some of the most remote places in America. They want to see in person what the artists have beckoned them to see.

Today, National park archives contain the work of many legendary artists who helped change the course of history.

Many parks continue to celebrate their legacy of art through various program and events. One such way is through artist in residence programs, which continue to grow in popularity throughout the service.  These programs are an opportunity for an artist to live and work in a national park, as an artist in residence for a specified term, providing the opportunity to create their art in a national park setting. These artists usually present a public lecture or workshop, and often donate a piece of artwork created during their residency to the National Park Service. Each individual artist in residence program is structured for the park, and specific aspiration of the artist selected. This is a program we would like to bring to Capitol Reef. Through events such as this we will continue to work towards this goal.

In 2016 the National Park Service turns 100 – A defining moment that offers an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate our accomplishments as we prepare for a new century of stewardship and engagement. In its first century the National Park Service focused on stewardship and enjoyment of special places, reflecting the core mission articulated in the National Park Service Organic Act. The result is a National Park System that encompasses America’s exceptional places.

America has changed dramatically since the birth of the National Park Service in 1916. The roots of the National Park Service lie in the park’s majestic, often isolated natural wonders and in places that exemplify our cultural heritage, but their reach now extends to places difficult to imagine 100 years ago – into urban centers, across rural landscapes, deep within oceans, and across night skies.

In our second century the National Park Service must recommit to the exemplary stewardship and public enjoyment of these places. We must promote the contribution that national parks and programs made to create jobs, strengthen local economics, and support ecosystem services. We must leverage and support a multi-sector workforce, parks community, and volunteer network to magnify all successes. We must use the collective power of the parks, our historic preservation programs, and community assistance programs to expand our contributions to society in the next century.

Our vision for the next century is captured in a document entitled “A Call to Action”. “A Call to Action” charts a path toward that second-century vision by asking employees and park partners to commit to concrete actions that advance the mission of the service and prepare the NPS for a second century of stewardship and engagement. Through the support of the American people, partners, volunteers, and employees, the National Park Service is having a profound effect on the lives of our citizens. A Call to Action seeks to expand those impacts, even in these times of fiscal constraint, by strategically focusing our efforts and aligning our existing resources on powerful actions that advance our mission. The “Call to Action” has four overarching themes that include Connecting People to Parks, Advancing the NPS Education Mission, Preserving America’s Special Places, and Enhancing Professional and Organizational Excellence.

One action items under the theme of “Connecting People to Parks” is entitled Arts Afire. Arts Afire is about showcasing the meaning of parks to new audiences through dance, music, visual arts, writing and social media. It targets the engagement of the arts community with parks to tell park stories in creative new ways. It is also intended to reach out to youth through the arts, creating new interpretations of the parks through young eyes using current arts and technology. This event is just one way in which Capitol Reef, through multiple partnerships, helps the National Park Service achieve this goal. I thank you for being a part of it and playing a key role in our collective success.

Fredrick Dellenbaugh, said when he first introduced Zion Canyon through his paintings, “One hardly knows just how to think of it. Never before has such a naked mountain of rock entered into our minds! Without a shred of disguise its transcendent form rises preeminent. There is almost nothing to compare to it. Niagara has the beauty of energy; the Grand Canyon, of immensity; the Yellowstone, of singularity; the Yosemite, of altitude; the ocean, of power; this Great Temple, of eternity.

I feel this is representative of this event and the magnitude of the landscapes you are capturing so brilliantly in your art.

Thank you.