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Art and Science: Ways of Knowing the Sonoran Desert

In this workshop, we invite you to immerse yourself in the dramatic landscape of the Sonoran Desert, AZ and engage your creativity to study the desert through Art-Based Perceptual Ecology (ABPE) methods taught in collaboration with Western science methods. You will learn how the arts are a way of knowing the ecology of place, offer a language that codifies one’s embodied experience, acts as a language translator and makes possible the information exchange necessary to communicate place-based stories of the desert landscape. NOTE: this workshop will be offered right before the 5th Tri-National Sonoran Desert Symposium and provides a great opportunity for Symposium guests to arrive early and delve deeper into the desert!

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Practicing ABPE in the field provides a shift in awareness, enabling one to:

  • open to detail in the landscape at scales previously unnoticed
  • transform from viewer to active participant
  • be more attentive to the gestures, codes, logos, and signs—the land’s unique vernacular
  • engage sensory capabilities beyond sight, and
  • discover the stories in the land, revealing the environmental history of the desert.

This workshop is open to artists and scientists, practitioners, educators, and researchers. The ABPE practice lends itself well to ecological research, as accessibility to multiple scales in ecosystems is of great relevance to scientists studying global environmental change. In this workshop, you will learn ABPE methods that involve drawing, however, this is not an art workshop, and there are no requirements for art skills or art experience to participate. There is some bending and sitting involved, and moderate walking. A materials list will be forwarded once you have registered. On Saturday evening, we will meet under the star-studded Arizona night sky and participants will have the opportunity to share their work and receive feedback in a supportive atmosphere.

Why learn these practices?

The environmental challenges of the 21st century require creative and innovative collaborations, such as those experienced when artists and scientists work together. There is an ethical foundation for the work as well. By learning pluralistic ways of perceiving the landscape, we may come to know the place in which we live, and find connections with the local habitat. Achieving this multi-dimensional sense of place may contribute to a deeper ethic of caring about the environment. Connected to landscapes through an embodied engagement, we are more likely to be good stewards of our ecological and cultural communities.

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Lee Ann Woolery, Expedition Leader

With a focus on divergent ways of knowing, Dr. Woolery pioneered Art-Based Perceptual Ecology, a unique research methodology used in collaboration with Western science methods to study the environment. Woolery is an interdisciplinary scholar, researcher, a practicing artist, and educator of over 30 years. She has taught environmentally focused workshops at Saguaro National Park, AZ; Red Butte Gardens, UT; and IslandWood, Bainbridge Island, WA. Woolery holds a doctorate in Environmental Studies from Antioch University New England and a graduate degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her doctoral field study in Desert Ecology was conducted in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Mexico. Dr. Woolery’s dissertation: Art-Based Perceptual Ecology as a way of knowing the language of place, and additional information on her research, workshops and field expeditions can be found at her website, EcoArt Expeditions

Accommodations and Cuisine

A former copper mining town, Ajo is approximately two hours from Phoenix and Tucson, and the gateway to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, one of the Southwest's most beautiful National Parks. The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center offers one-of-a-kind hospitality that engages visitors in the rich culture of the Southwest. We are located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert on the beautifully restored Curley School campus, just a short walk to the town's historic, Spanish-style plaza.

Our peaceful property features large guest rooms, a lush courtyard, an urban farm, a full commercial kitchen, and multiple classroom and workshop spaces. It is an ideal oasis for travelers, family events, retreats and conferences. We specialize in engaging cultural, historical and culinary programming. With us you'll encounter the unique character of Southern Arizona, where Mexican, Tohono O'odham and American cultures create a blend that is authentically Ajo. For more information, photos, and room descriptions visit

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Ajo is a small town with a lot of fantastic chefs! Throughout the weekend, we will feature nourishing interpretations of Southwestern, Mexican and Tohono O'odham Native American cuisine to enhance your Sonoran Desert experience. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available upon request.


The registration fee includes a full weekend of instruction in the Sonoran Desert, all meals (Friday evening to Sunday breakfast) and 2 nights of accommodations at the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center, Ajo, AZ. Register before January 19th and receive an early-bird registration rate of $535.00. Register after January 19th and registration is $570. The workshop is only open to 10 participants, so space is limited. Register now to secure your place!

  1. Click here and enter the dates 3/2 - 3/4/2018
  2. Scroll down and select "Art and Science Workshop"
  3. When the pop-up box says "No accommodation has been selected," click "OK." [Accommodations are already included in the package price].
  4. You will be assigned a Standard or Deluxe Room with either one king or two queen beds. Room descriptions are at If you have a preference on room type, please email the Conference Center at and their staff will do their best to accommodate your preference.
  5. Fill out all the information and follow instructions to enter your credit card information. Your card will be charged when you submit your registration.

For questions regarding registration or accommodations, please contact Emily Siegel at or 520-775-2565. For questions about the workshop, contact Lee Ann Woolery at

Cancellation Policy

If you need to cancel your registration, there is a $100 non-refundable processing fee. A written cancellation request must be received in writing by email and USPS mail in order to receive a refund.

Cancelling a workshop registration 31+ days prior to the workshop, you will be reimbursed any payments already made, minus the $100 non-refundable processing fee. Cancelling a workshop registration 30 days or less prior to the workshop, there is no refund of any payments already made.

Earlier Event: February 23
Sonoran Chakra Yoga Retreat