MaryEllen Hackett is a national park ranger by day and a centennial artist ambassador virtually every other hour. For the 100 year anniversary of our National Park Service, ambassadors have been selected by individual national parks to serve as spokespeople. Notable names include adventure photographer Chris Burkard and rock climber Tommy Caldwell.

MaryEllen was given the role of artist ambassador through Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut, but her reach extends well beyond New England. She’s taking on a permanent ranger position at Sequoia National Park in California come July, and she is passionate about helping to connect promising artists around the country to the artist-in-residency programs the parks offer.

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If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asked you what you did for work, what would you tell them?
The answer is always two-fold: I’m a park ranger and I’m the Centennial Artist Ambassador for the national parks for 2016 through the Weir Farm National Historic Site. To sum it up: I’m pretty much a “hype girl” for art in the parks. I’m trying to promote art to the parks and I’m trying to promote it to artists. It’s an evolving role that I have a feeling, come 2017, I’ll probably still be doing in a more involved way.

What is a typical day like, starting when you get to work and ending when you get home?
I get up and I get out before work every day for some kind of physical activity, usually running, but when I go, I have my paints with me just in case something presents itself. I’m super fortunate that I live in a national park and my home, workplace, and views are all one in the same. I have a huge advantage when it comes to being in the right place at the right time.

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After making use of my morning, I go to work. My 9 to 5, so to speak, is being a national park ranger, which is a whole role unto itself. I’m fully dedicated to that when I’m on the job–I don’t work on art during ranger hours. When I get off, I typically spend an hour a day doing research on artists and residencies and responding to emails. I then organize time to talk to people. That said, there’s never a typical day.

I keep in touch with the staff at Weir Farm semi-regularly. I update them on what I’ve been working on once a month. They have one deadline for the residency program, and the ultimate goal will be to have a bunch of new artists applying to the program.

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How does your job affect someone’s day?
I’m hoping it opens up some doors for folks. Usually in the course of a conversation with an artist, even if they don’t end up applying to a residency, I ask them, “hey, have you ever just gone out to a national park (or any space outside) and tried to do what you do in the studio?” I’ve had a few folks reach out (usually on social media) and say, I’m working outside and I haven’t done that in a long time.

It’d be really great if some of the artists I’ve been talking to get one of these residencies. It’ll be a bit until I see the long term effects, but that’s okay. I get very motivated when I talk to people about them, and hopefully that comes across as well.

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What was your first job in the outdoor industry?
My first job was working on a fishing dock, at a gas station in New York for fishing boats. But my first real outdoor industry job was working at the Fire Island Lighthouse in New York. That was probably the big one for me. I was outside quite a bit, it was the first time I started painting the landscape. I was there year round, during school I was there on the weekends and all summer. You get some down time, especially in the winter, when you’re sitting up top of the lighthouse. I started painting landscapes over the winter of 2010, which ended up becoming my college thesis and ultimately what I love to paint. It was my first exposure to the National Park Service. I didn’t work for the park service then, but I met rangers and as I was coming to graduate school I thought, “that looks like a good job for me.

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What are the pros of your job?
I’m getting to meet people and encourage artists to apply to residencies that could be the right fit. For the future, [the national parks] need more applicants. We want to keep these programs alive and say we had so many quality applicants that we turned down people.

I’m pretty outgoing and I’m a big believer in collaborating. I was told in college, never be stingy with advice and opportunities. There is something competitive, especially when you’re applying for the same residencies as other people. When I tell people about a residency, I might also be applying. We were told, don’t be stingy, it will almost always come back in a positive way.

I don’t base success on how many people get residencies, but how many times they apply. It shows that they’re motivated and they may try again next year. I’ve been denied way more times than I’ve been accepted–it comes with the territory.

What are the cons?
Same as the pros. There are only so many residencies. If a park has eight residencies a year, that’s only eight people they can accept. Not every park has a residency program. But, hopefully, if more people apply and the quality of the art is good, then potentially the parks start more residencies and open up more positions.

Photos by Dylan Schneider, MaryEllen Hackett. Artwork by MaryEllen Hackett

If artists want to get in touch with MaryEllen and talk with her about the opportunities available at parks around the United States, use the contact page on her portfolio site, Restless Map Studio. You can also find MaryEllen on Instagram via @restlessmapstudio

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