The Desert Fellowship


The Desert Fellowship is a creative residency program facilitated by Blue Sky Center in collaboration with Cuyama Valley organizations, businesses, and communities.

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Fellowship Objectives

  1. To invite exchange and collaboration between the Desert Fellow, Cuyama Valley residents, and Blue Sky Center.

  2. To further arts enrichment and access within the Cuyama Valley.

  3. To highlight rural places as culturally vibrant places for artists to live and work.

  4. To expand the field of socially engaged arts to emphasize rural places.

  5. To creatively build the capacity of Blue Sky Center as an organization and community resource.

Over the course of three weeks, Desert Fellows live and work onsite to develop an independent creative project that thoughtfully engages local residents. This work is site-responsive, with an on-site proposal process guided by our staff and informed by the Fellow’s experiences listening and learning from Cuyama Valley communities. 

Concurrently, Fellows work alongside Blue Sky Center staff to develop a second, organization-specific project that furthers the Blue Sky mission and builds organizational capacity. This component of the Fellowship should take up ~7 hours/week (one BSC work day).

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Desert Fellows are self-directed, community-centered artists with interest or experience working in rural places. They work across or between mediums, using creative practice to reflect, respond, imagine, critique, subvert—or something else entirely. They engage with history, grapple with the present, or address the future. They enter new communities with sensitivity and create work that builds upon values of equity, inclusion, and co-creation.

Application and Selection Processes

We aim to make our application and selection processes as accessible and transparent as possible. As such, our application is free and open to anyone to apply, consisting of short-answer questions and a work samples document. Our selections team is made up of 7-12 panelists that include Cuyama Valley community members, alumni visiting artists, alumni staff, and the Blue Sky Center Creative Community Engagement project team.

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On the Fellowship Model

The Desert Fellowship is a program that began in 2016 as a way to invite creatives for extended, project-based residencies to build the capacity of our organization and facilities. Our earliest Desert Fellows developed our Shelton Hut campsite and operations, contributed essential workplace policies to grow and support our staff, and helped us complete initial building renovations to make our campus both functional and beautiful.

As our organization has grown and matured, we’ve facilitated a handful of residencies with varying structures, from hosting artist cohorts to designers-in-residence with predetermined projects. Seeking to further align our residency program with the needs and creative interests of our communities, we rebooted our Desert Fellowship in 2019 to build a community-centered, three-week residency program.

This year we’ll host three Desert Fellows over the months of March, June, and October respectively.

Thinking about applying? Check out our Desert Fellowship Frequently Asked Questions and direct any further questions to our residency coordinator.


Current / Upcoming Fellows

Check back this fall to learn about our upcoming October 2019 Desert Fellow!


Previous Fellows

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Mayela Rodriguez, June 2019

Mayela Rodriguez is an artist currently residing in Ann Arbor, MI. Born and raised in Santa Barbara, CA. Through sculpture, photography, and community engagement, Rodriguez’s work reimagines how we can collectively heal exclusionary archival practices. Rodriguez completed her B.A. in Art Practice at U.C. Berkeley in 2015 and received her M.F.A. in Art from the University of Michigan in 2019. Rodriguez has shown her work in the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Barbara, CA, and Detroit, MI.

During her fellowship, Mayela held cartonera-making workshops for the residents of the Cuyama Valley. Traditional to Latin America, cartoneras are brightly painted, cardboard-bound books filled with poetry and stories. With the Fourth of July nearing, participants decorated and filled their cartoneras with original stories, thoughts, and drawings about what “independence” means to them. Additionally, Mayela worked with the community to convert the display case behind New Cuyama’s C&H Market into a community art gallery. The cartoneras made during workshops were then exhibited in “Cuyama Cartonera,” the inaugural art show in the new gallery. During the opening celebration, community members nominated and voted on potential names for the art space and Art from the Heart Gallery won!


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Claudia Borfiga, March 2019

Claudia Borfiga works across multiple fields, making illustration, design, and printed work. Screen printing is her go-to medium, and she enjoys the collaborative nature of teaching workshops, most recently for Girls Rock and Patagonia. She’s co-founder of the block printed textiles brand Chhipa and put together the project Print Power in Santa Barbara. Her recent practice has been exploring how creative workshops can be used as a tool to foster community.

While in residence, Claudia Borfiga began building a catalog of Cuyama Valley patterns—leading playful “‘pattern hunts” in partnership with our communities to uncover small moments and memory in the in-between spaces that make this Valley home. Weaving together her skills as an educator, screenprinter, and easygoing friend, Claudia’s Fellowship culminated in a screenprinted zine. This final publication, titled “Pattern Hunt / Buscando Patrones” and illustrated by New Cuyama youth, mirrors Claudia’s process as it guides readers through a poetic hunt for patterns of Cuyama.