Olympic National Park is looking for artists to create lasting memories
Photo by Jon Williams, Dignity City
The Olympics offer Puget Sound and Olympic Peninsula residents breathtaking views. The National Parks Service is asking artists to help honor Olympic Park's diminishing glaciers.
As global warming drains our mountain peaks of year-round ice, contributing artists can help create a glacial tribute
By Jon Williams
Dignity City Editor
Look west from Puget Sound. That white-capped row of incisors and molars pushing skyward gleams its Pepsodent smile all year long. When clouds part, exposing the Olympics’ Cheshire grin, we feel a sense of place and pride.
At sundown, the sky turns pink above a jagged silhouette that turns opaque in the night. The mountains will smile again tomorrow, but in years to come, that Cheshire grin will fade.
According to the National Park Service, in 1982, there were 266 glaciers glistening atop the Olympic Mountains. Twenty-seven years later, in 2009, there were 184. A warming trend continues to melt the remaining glaciers.
At this moment, if you count the year-round icy peaks of the Olympics, add them to those in the Cascades to the east, then factor in Mount Rainier, it sums up to the fact that Washington has the most glaciers of any state in the lower 48. We have a lot to lose.
The numbers of icy peaks shrink with every warmer day, month and year as we trend toward a warmer planet. And even though record-setting days and months aren’t necessarily significant in and of themselves — overall trends are very significant. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the world’s seven-warmest years have all occurred since 2014, with 10 of the warmest years occurring since 2005. The data isn’t in on 2021 yet.
Scientists believe that we’re experiencing the warmest period on Earth in a millennia, according to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And that worries the folks at the National Park Service (NPS), who have been watching the nation’s glaciers liquify.
Birth of the terminus
At an NPS strategy meeting in 2019, Olympic Park’s Visual Information Specialist, Eliza Goode, had an idea for documenting and educating people about the park’s glacial decay. "What if we assigned an artist to every glacier in the park?” she suggested.
“At the time,” she recalled in an interview by email, “it was just a fun idea to dream of for someday.”
But a year later, she said, Heather Stephens, the park’s volunteer and youth program manager, told Goode that she had funding from Washington’s National Park Fund to create an artist-in-(virtual)-residence program.
That funding brought Goode’s idea to life. It’s now called The Terminus Project.
A “terminus” is the toe, or bottom, of a glacier. It changes rapidly, in glacial terms, because glaciers are in endless motion. Over the past few decades, they’ve been receding — then disappearing.
The goal of the Terminus Project, the NPS website explains, is “to immortalize glaciers of the Olympic Mountains through art.”
The project asks a participating artist to volunteer a piece of art — whatever the medium — representing an assigned glacier. The artist will receive a packet of details about an individual glacier including its name and location as well as any photos, recent and historic. Contributors will also receive notes and anecdotes from scientists, and any other information available about the glacier.
“The artists we select for this round of applications will be assigned to the 40 best-known glaciers in the Olympics, including all of the named glaciers, which have been photographed over the decades,” Goode said.
Elaborating on the vision for the project, she continued:“The art that is created for each one will live in the online Terminus Gallery, unchanging even as the glacier itself may shrink, change, and even vanish. When some of these glaciers are gone, the art will stand as a memorial, as proof that they meant something personal and real, and they still do.”
The NPS has a history of artist-in-residence programs involving visual artists, writers, musicians and others going back to the 1870s. However, according to Goode, Olympic National Park doesn’t bring in artists on a regular basis. And in this case, most artists who contribute to the project will work remotely. In fact, they are discouraged from visiting the glaciers in person, owing to the rough backcountry terrain.
That means whether you live in Seattle, Tacoma, Poughkeepsie, New York or Duluth, Minnesota, you are eligible to apply. If you’re thousands of miles from the closest glacier — perhaps you’re an artist in Abu Dhabi — you can still contribute. There may be capacity to offer one or two short-term artist residencies in the park; those details are still to be worked out.
The parks service asks that contributors donate a digital copy — photo, video or text files — of their work for the park’s use and for the Terminus Project’s online gallery. Artists will retain all the rights to their work and are allowed to sell the work or display it elsewhere.
Choosing the art
“We'll be considering artists based on several factors,” said Goode, “including the samples of their work that they show us, the statement they share about what inspires them about the project and what concept they have in mind for what they would like to make, and whether they are members of the Indigenous Tribes and Nations associated with the Olympic Peninsula.
“We'll also try to make sure several different kinds of media are represented,” she said.
Olympic National Park employees will do a preliminary review of all the applications, and they hope to bring in a community member or other luminary to join in the final judging.
Artists who have been blending the Earth’s tones over the years have likely noticed the bleaching of once colorful coral reefs; coastal mountains previously pointillized by golden poppies are now swaths of burnt sienna; and titanium white glaciers have been transformed into the raw umber of what lies beneath.
The Earth’s palette is changing.
What can artists do?
“Art can’t turn back the clock on climate change,” said Goode. “But art can personalize issues that we may have let become abstract and theoretical. It can remind us of how connected we are, to each other and to the natural world.
“Art has the power to shine a light on what is precious to us and remind us to be protective of it… Art can also give us a space to grieve together, as we see the changes that have already happened, the things that have already been lost because of global climate change,” she said.
Despite this project being an elegy to vanishing nature, Goode said the atmosphere around its creation has been full of hope and even excitement. The artists who have been applying bring beautiful ideas and express their excitement about its vision.
“I am really honored by that, and it gives me hope that Terminus might be really meaningful, and even make a difference. I can't wait to see what we're all going to make together,” she said.
The deadline to apply to participate is March 31. For more information and to submit an application, go to: nps.gov/olym/terminus.htm or storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/6b0840d5d711413d9c02c8bf9de520d9