Q: What restrictions affect applicants?
A: For reasons of liability, we ask that our participants be age 18 or over. Our trips take place in rugged and remote country and can be physically demanding, but we think it’s way more accessible than it sounds, and will work with you and the guides to find out if it is a good fit.
Q: How much outdoor experience do I need to have to participate?
A: None. We love introducing newbies to the joys of outdoor living. Our trips generally have a mix of experience levels, and that makes it better for everyone.
Q: You do a bunch of different things. Which trip is right for me?
A: Our trips are open to anyone ages 18 and over, at any career stage. We are unique in not requiring CVs in our application process, so, while the below guidelines are intended to help you match to the trip that’s right for you, know there are always exceptions.
Our programs can be grouped into three categories: Residencies, Retreats, and Wide Open Studios.
>Residencies: are self-directed, with Signal Fire staff nearby to provide safety, support, and optional day hikes. Residencies are our least physically demanding programs. Participants are selected through competitive, juried application, based on quality of work and written statements. Our finalists tend to be established or emerging professional artists.
>Retreats: are group experiences, backpacking, canoeing, and camping together in wild places. Signal Fire guides provide instruction on backcountry safety, low impact camping techniques, and short activities to invite perception of the landscape and invite creative breakthroughs. These trips can be ephysically and socially demanding and rewarding. We curate a reader to provide entry points for discussion, but all non-essential activities are optional. Participants are selected through competitive, juried application, based on quality of work and written statements. Our finalists tend to be established or emerging professional artists.
>Wide Open Studios: is our one-of-a-kind arts and ecology field institute. These trips are curriculum-rich, with projects, readings and discussions happening throughout the trip. They offer immersion education intended to catalyze creative discovery and personal transformation, and can be both physically and socially demanding. Wide Open Studios participants are selected by Instructors based on assembling a diverse and unique cohort. We generally get a mix of current students (both graduate and undergraduate, art students and otherwise), non-students, and working artists.
SO, YOU’RE CONSIDERING APPLYING:
Q: Will I need to buy a bunch of gear?
A: We don’t think so. So far, we’ve been able to cobble together enough camping gear for everyone to borrow everything they don’t have already.
We’re slowly adding to our ‘Narnia’ closet, so chances are we can arrange something. Have something you’d like to donate to our gear shed? Thanks! We’ll take it!
Q: What’s the sliding scale about? Do you have travel grants or scholarships?
A: Signal Fire is a young nonprofit organization. We’re eagerly anticipating a time when all our programming is free and (someday?) a time when we pay you to come on a trip. Our trips are currently offered at-cost, meaning the low end of the sliding scale covers the bare bones of the trip expenses (trip leaders are unpaid volunteers) and Signal Fire fundraises to pay for the administration and all our other costs. If you can afford to pay more, you’re invited to do so— we make your money go a long way. Similarly, we currently cannot offer funds for travel or supplies, but our participants have received funding from their local arts councils and we’re always happy to help with a letter of acceptance. In 2016 we have several scholarships. These will be noted and linked in the individual trips for which they are offered.
Q: My plans changed. Can I have my money back?
A: Sorry, no. The biggest challenge facing Signal Fire’s momentum has not been bears or forest fires, but last-minute cancellations. This means an empty spot when we could’ve been serving someone else and it really rankles us. In an extraordinary situation like an unexpected injury or legitimate family emergency we will be understanding, but payments are final and a surprise job offer or change of plans doesn’t get you a refund.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS:
Q: My work is so cutting edge that it defies all categories. Can you handle my application?
A: We’ll try our best. If you can figure out how to give us a work sample, we can figure out how to present it to our jury. We think the hard boundaries between disciplines are a thing of the past, and we welcome submissions from any artistic discipline as well as activists, curators, researchers, arts organizers, inventors…and the list is growing.
Q: Should I be proposing a particular project?
A: You are welcome to be as specific as you want, but we don’t expect you to know if or what you want to do or make or discover on the trip. The jury, however, is often impressed by a clear sense of direction, so if you say one thing and do another, that’ll be our little secret.
Q: I am allergic to birdsong. Does this affect my chances of being selected?
A: No. The jury only sees your work samples and the answers to the essay questions. Logistical questions such as health issues stay confidential with Signal Fire organizers and help your trip leaders best prepare for guiding you on a safe and comfortable experience. We’ll probably call you to learn more about the birdsong thing.
Q: I didn’t get in! WTF? Can you give me feedback on why I wasn’t chosen?
A: One of the hardest things about this is how many awesome people we have to decline each year. That’s why we’re committed to growing the project and we’re hoping to fit you on a future trip. Since our jury are volunteering their time for us, we are not willing to ask them for feedback on specific applications. Just know that the jury changes each time, and we’d love to see your application in the next round.
YOU GOT IN! CONGRATULATIONS! GETTING READY FOR YOUR TRIP:
Q: How physically difficult is this? Should I, like, train first?
A: We’re artists. We’re pretty bad at sports and athleticism is not what drew us to this project. Backpacking can be very physically demanding, but we’re focused on facing and overcoming those challenges and sending you home in one piece. If you’re not used to backpacking we suggest you take some longish day hikes before your trip, wearing the same boots you plan to bring.
Q: You’re providing the food? Um…that makes me nervous. I am really particular about what I eat.
A: We know. Don’t worry. We’ll query everyone about their menu preferences: allergies, likes, dislikes. We’ve planned meals for dozens upon dozens of participants so far and we’ve had very few complaints. Doing it this way makes it easier on your end and keeps the pack weight low. We do, however, invite you to pack some supplementary ‘treats’ that will keep you happy: chocolate, jerky (all our food is vegetarian), whatever will keep you going in a tough moment.
Q: Can you help me find a place to stay the night before the trip? Or after?
A: Usually yes. We’ll put you in touch with local friends who might have a couch to lend. If that fails, we can definitely recommend a hostel or cheap hotel.
Q: Can you pick me up at the airport?
A: Mmmmm…maybe? We want you to have a smooth entry but it’s tough to coordinate ten airport rides on the same day. We always pick a central meet-up spot that’s accessible by public transit so we can scoop everyone up at once. We can help you figure this part out and we won’t leave you stranded.
Q: My black lab is soooooo great! Everyone likes him! I can bring him on the trip, right?
A: If Mr. Wiggles is a registered service animal then of course he’s welcome to accompany you. Having other animals on the trips changes the dynamic for everybody and, while we’re sure your dog is super, it’s worked best to have a ‘no pets’ policy. Dogs in the wilderness drive off most wild animals, and we prefer the wild to the tame.
ON THE TRIP:
Q: Is there an emergency number my family can reach me at?
A: No. Your loved ones should expect you to be entirely out of touch with absolutely no access to cell reception or internet (multi-week trips are an exception, as we’ll have resupply times in town). You can communicate with your trip leaders about using a Signal Fire staff person as an emergency contact, as they will know how to find you if something is absolutely dire.
Q: What if I don’t have a good time? Can I leave?
A: Our destinations are about as remote as it gets in the lower 48. But you’re not a prisoner. There are bound to be challenging times throughout the experience, but it shouldn’t be an overall bummer, and if you’re having a terrible time, we’ll help you get back to the nearest town so you can get home.
Q: Do you have some gruesome stories about things that have gone wrong?
A: Luckily, no. All of our lead guides are certified Wilderness First Responders and all of our assistant guides are certified in wilderness first aid. But it’s really a matter of common sense to keep yourself safe in the backcountry. It’s worth it.
Q: Should I be making work out here?
A: Not necessarily. We believe that this experience will catalyze something for you, but it might not happen right away, and we don’t expect you to be productive on your trip if that’s not what comes naturally. Alright! Ready to apply?