THE SPIRIT OF THE FUTURE
Desert Island is an arts and ideas festival in search of auspicious futures.
It is held in Ajo, Arizona, a mining town in the borderlands of the Sonoran Desert.
Besides epic performances in a mirage-like setting, Desert Island takes on tomorrow, asking what the future means to us - as a concept and a strangely plastic inevitability.
We invite visionary artists, scientists, activists, and thinkers from diverse fields and identities to a new kind of gathering. A summit? A celebration? A secret society?
We challenge this group to look at pressing planetary problems with fresh eyes, to reframe them, undo the sedating effects the news and media can have on critical topics, and find transformative new ways of relating to them.
We rethink the present from the perspective of imagined futures. We mine the current quagmire for viable visions of what could be. We create art and messaging that wakens a desire in people to activate and reclaim authorship of their future.
Cosmically speaking, “the future” is a non-issue. Time is a local thing, an illusion of earthbound consciousness. Glued to the present, the future isn’t quite real to us—an intimidating spaghetti of possibility. Which noodle to twirl? And who holds the fork?
Because our imaginary future holds so much perceived value, powerful, self-interested forces have colonized it, walling us off from its potential with political and economic oppressions, soul-sapping business plans, addictive technologies, and numbing obligations that redirect the flow of life to runoff revenue streams.
Desert Island veers off this premeditated path like a bloodhound after new scents.
We hunt for storylines, gathering ideas and moods for life’s unwritten chapters, whether they be aesthetic, political, emotional, utopian, comedic, or cautionary.
Our job is to stakeout a temporary autonomous zone—a separate space where new myths, creations, and plans can be hatched and released.
Over time, Desert Island will become a kind of seed bank, whose talks, performances, and creations contribute to an archive of intentions and motivations for life on earth.
For now, we declare the future a precious resource, protected and allowed to thrive, unpolluted, unbranded, publicly owned, and open to all, like a national park of time.
Desert Island is a small gathering of around 150 people who are invited to Ajo to connect with the place, the community, and creative spirit of the event.
There are various housing options including hotels, safari tents, and regular camping. Transportation to, from, and within Ajo is available, depending on departure point. Meals accommodating most diets are included. Prepare for an adventure!
In terms of the event itself, Desert Island has four main programs:
During the hot day, we are inside at Future School, listening, learning, and debating the past, present, and future of timeless and time sensitive issues.
When we eat, we eat all together, in various locations around Ajo. Mood Food invites local and nonlocal chefs to serve simple, soulful meals with a story attached.
At night, Appearances offers performances and screenings under starry skies.
Moonshot Projects put art and ideas into practice after the event, back in so-called reality, with playful, provocative, public messaging campaigns and installations.
Please see Lineup section for participants and details on all of our programs.
Like any good castaway tale, Desert Island is about the imaginary and heroic potential of a motley crew unplugged from its daily routines. Gathered remotely, minds wake from the dream of society, souls reflect on where they’ve been and where they want to go, and questions arise about the flavor of what comes next.
Here are some backdrop questions to mull over before, during, and after the event…
How do we define reality?
How will the future include the needs and wishes of all cultural groups?
What do we lose in exchange for new (imposed?) ideas and technologies?
How does your future feel? What ideas, moods, attitudes, aesthetics prevail?
How can focused creativity set new trajectories and possible futures in motion?
What comes next for you?
Ajo is a small, tri-national community in southwestern Arizona surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. It emerges like a dream out of the landscape; a surreal oasis whose architecture and layout reflect its roots in the utopian City Beautiful movement.
As a copper hub in early 20th C., mine owner, John Greenway, and his charismatic wife, Isabella, sought to build an ideal community that would keep the miners from leaving Ajo for a few pennies more. It worked, and as a result, people from wildly different backgrounds came to rely on one another in their shared isolation. Though racism and class economics existed, they were counterproductive to the needs of the community. Ajo prospered until the mine closed in the 1980s.
Ajo’s revival began in the 1990s when a handful of pioneering locals formed the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, a non-profit cultural organization engaged in community revitalization through the arts and economic development. It is through ISDA’s generous and welcoming spirit that Desert Island has a home.
Ajo revealed itself to Desert Island founder, Paul Gachot, on a color-coded heat map of the US. He sought somewhere warm to spend his January birthday, and a tiny red dot on the map caught his eye: Ajo! Upon arrival, he forgot his birthday, having found instead an ideal location for the festival project he’d been working on.
Although Desert Island plays with the image of Ajo being a remote island in the desert, it is actually far from alone. The Tohono O'odham Nation Reservation is just to the east, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is due south, and Mexico is south of that. To the west is the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and to the north is the Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range. Talk about a mixed use neighborhood…
Many of the complicated stories and histories that define our present have a footing in and around Ajo: The wall and the migrants who die in the desert in trying to find a better future. The Reservation that is home to a nation struggling to keep its identity alive. The parklands that remind us of nature’s embattled status. The military bases that hone technological might. The Sonoran Desert is a place of timeless beauty and serenity, and also great intensity, especially when we look at its human heritage .
Please check back as we announce dates and guests.
While in Ajo, Desert Island offers a safe space for artists and thinkers to explore ideas and escape routines. But we need to focus our efforts back on the spectacle of reality we co-hallucinate. There needs to be a magnanimous offering of some kind.
Moonshot Projects are playful, subversive messages and artworks woven into the fabric of everyday life. They employ the double-take, the WTF? reaction, to break the spell of our hypnosis and get us thinking about the fact that, imaginary or not, the timeline we live in is very real to us. A future is coming. Which one will it be?
“Intuition Pumps” is a phrase philosopher Daniel Dennet uses describe stories and creations that revise our sense of reality. Moonshot Projects embraces that notion and combines it with the practice of culture jamming (minus the binary us/them presumption of those efforts). A good Moonshot is a deep awareness challenge to the public imagination. The right message, meme, or artwork will quietly appear on a billboard or be installed in some traditional marketplace or municipal space.
An ability to conjure new zeitgeists is the key to a better future. Technology and economies are just tools, not the ends we have confused them for. Let the military-industrial complex plod on, it’s the reality-imagination complex that is calling us to resuscitate the big picture. And that job calls for some wildly creative messaging.
Doing our part, Desert Island appoints groups, during the event, to launch individual Moonshot projects that will unfurl at different points after the event. Distilling impactful, farsighted messages is our raison d’être. Creative people have always played an indispensable role in conjuring moods, visions, and solutions for futures we might actually want to inhabit.
Oscar Wilde said that the fog in London did not exist until the painters and poets invented it. When imaginations stir, new realities appear. Life imitates art.
Ticketing & Housing info coming soon...
The town of Ajo is the venue.
Hot days, warm summery nights.
A dot in the desert ocean, Ajo is still bigger than you think.
Most events and lodgings are located in the town's core historic center.
Some events will happen on the outskirts of town. Free shuttles will be provided.
There will be several housing choices - hotels, home rentals, safari tents, camping.
Remember: We are visitors in Ajo, a diverse, industrious community that has graciously welcomed us into their one-of-a-kind home. (Be a good guest!)
Desert Island Playlist
Founder & Creative Director
Desert Island is produced by Sound & Vision
and is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) event, thanks to fiscal sponsorship from
Desert Island Logo: Brian Steely
Desert Island "Cacti by Night"painting: Laura Garcia Serventi
Ajo Plaza photo: Bill Perry