Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill

History: The Desert Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona was founded by the Carnegie Institution in 1903 to better understand how plants adapted to arid desert environments. Numerous long term ecological experiments were created on the 860 acres (3.5 km2) around Tumamoc Hill. The facility and staff were key contributors to what is now considered the science of ecology, including participating in the creation of the Ecological Society of America in 1915 and the journal Ecology.

Program/project name: “Tumamoc Sketchbook.”

From the Sketchbook:

The “Tumamoc Sketchbook” is about one small 860 acre place. It’s an open sketch­book and journal of art and writing done on or about Tumamoc Hill, a unique ecological, historical, and archeological landmark on the wild western side of Tucson. Tumamoc is a natural desert mountain preserve surrounded by a fast-​growing city. Scientists have protected it since 1906. Now it’s up to our community to preserve it for the next century. The first step is to stop, look, and learn…

Art and writ­ing is my way of form­ing a rela­tion­ship with a place. I use them to become immersed in a place and let­ting it sug­gest what I do next. Draw­ing also adds mean­ing to a place. Ulti­mately the con­tent we pro­duce adds to a devel­op­ing cul­tural value which is long-​lasting. That value or emo­tional con­nec­tion in the minds of the com­mu­nity is what will pro­tect the Hill for the next cen­tury, as sci­en­tists have done for the pre­vi­ous one.

In this vein, I will also be encouraging other artists and writ­ers to spend time here, by invi­ta­tion, using Tumamoc as a sub­ject. Each person forms his or her own con­nec­tion, whether it is sci­ence or human­is­tic work.

Whatever comes out of this process, from me or from oth­ers, is collected sequen­tially in this blog. The tra­di­tional the­o­ries of art as “self-​expression” seem to be turned on their head here. It is as though the sub­ject mat­ter, the envi­ron­ment, the Hill in it’s infi­nite detail, expresses itself through the open-​ended effort that I and other artists do here. You just walk around and the sub­jects come to you.

Artists and writ­ers usu­ally want to share what they have dis­cov­ered. In this nat­ural way mean­ings accu­mu­late and become a sense of place. The place can become a land­mark in the minds of a whole com­mu­nity, encour­ag­ing a sense of stew­ard­ship and pro­tec­tion towards a nat­ural place that is right next door, part of our neighborhood.”


Contact Person: Paul Mirocha