South Rim, 2011
On a snowy spring day in May of 2011, I drove the one hour trip to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park to become its next artist-in-residence. I was stepping into a new realm in my career, both as an artist (I was about to finish my last semester of teaching art at the university level after seventeen years), and as a test case for the National Park Service. That semester I had taught a site-specific art installation class called Ecological and Cultural Genocide in Arizona. Building upon the preparation for that class, my residency proposal was to come to an understanding of why uranium mining had been allowed to happen in Grand Canyon and within the National Park. Never before, inside a National Park, had an artist been given the permission to examine documents inside park archives and come to a conclusion that shed light on the Park Service and our federal government - and then to share those conclusions in the form of an overtly political art installation. The culmination of my research came a year later when I was allowed to install and share The Price of Entrance to the public at Park Headquarters.
Three weeks after the conclusion of my residency, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Obama administration would enact a 20-year ban on the staking of new uranium mines and hard-rock claims. This announcement did not affect the current uranium mining at the Arizona 1 mine outside the park on the north rim, nor did it affect the South Canyon Mine six miles south of the park boundary. In fact a month after my installation opened to the public, the Canadian company Denison Mines Corporation announced that South Canyon would begin operating in the autumn of that year, but luckily, because of litigation, that mine has never operated.
Three days before the closing reception for The Price of Entrance, the public affairs officer for the park got wind that the park superintendant was going to be there to introduce me. Immediately she ordered him to not attend, worried that a photograph might be taken of him attending this event? How would congress, those who hold the purse strings for future funding, react?
My installation was used as an educational component for park rangers to educate the public about the history of uranium mining in the park. But it is this history that the Park Service had been desperately trying to erase from the park in the name of environmental clean-up. Over the years since that West Rim hike that our family had taken in 1998, the hike that had initiated my curiosity about uranium mining in Grand Canyon, the out buildings have been razed and the head frame dismantled. This cleansing began happening before the antiquities act would become a factor. Eventually this history will be forgotten for future generations to learn from. My installation at Park Headquarters became a vehicle to educate people about what had at one time happened inside their national park.