THE SPIRIT OF THE FUTURE
Desert Island is a festival of visionary art and ideas that wonders, where are we going?
It is held in Ajo, Arizona, a mining town in the borderlands of the Sonoran Desert.
Besides epic performances in a miragelike setting, Desert Island takes on tomorrow, asking what the future means to us - as an idea and a strangely plastic inevitability.
We invite artists, scientists, activists, and thinkers to look at contemporary society through the lens of the future, and vice versa.
The challenge is to picture versions of life on Earth beyond the troubles we currently face in the dominant culture of western society. We do this through art and discourse that contrasts the present with speculations on what could be.
We do things differently. Our event aspires to have the soul of a gospel singer and the audacity of a moon mission. The search for magnanimous futures calls for more than just intellectualizing. We should also ask ourselves, what might the future feel like?
The best futures will flow like marbleized paper in motion. Different people with different needs will mix and move about freely on a planet we look after together. Every cultural group will enjoy a basic right to author their own story. Mutually assured respect extends to all living things. With the exception of mosquitoes.
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—a psychic 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 prepared paths like a pack of bloodhounds after new scents.
We hunt for better storylines, better motivations and moods for life’s unwritten chapters, be they aesthetic, political, emotional, utopian, comedic, or cautionary.
Our job is to stakeout a temporary autonomous zone—a separate space where new myths, provocations, and plans can be hatched and released.
Over time, Desert Island will become a kind of seed bank whose talks, performances, and creations will contribute to an archive of good options 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 several housing options including hotels, safari tents, vacation rentals, and regular camping. Free transportation within Ajo is available, and meals for most diets are included. Prepare for an adventure!
Desert Island has five main programs:
The Pageant of Future Beauty
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 together, in various locations around Ajo. Mood Food invites local and nonlocal chefs to serve soulful, creative meals with a story attached.
When we’re not eating or in school, the Appearances program offers music, art, dance, theater, poetry, magic, film, games, and other experiences around Ajo.
Our crowning spectacle is the Pageant of Future Beauty, in which cosmic beings and jolly robots strut their stuff down Ajo’s airport runway under starry skies.
Moonshot Projects put art and ideas into practice after the event, back in so-called reality, with playful, challenging, public messaging campaigns and art 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 consider 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 for possible futures in motion?
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 an old heat map of the US. He sought an oasis in the desert for his new festival project about the future. What he found was so much more.
Although Desert Island plays with the notion 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 unique space for artists and thinkers to get away and explore. None of this matters unless it resonates back in the reality we co-hallucinate as a society. Our event needs to contribute something to the world.
Moonshot Projects are playful, provocative 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 remind us that 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 a variation on the practice of culture jamming .
A good Moonshot is a jolt of profound awareness that challenges the public imagination. Carefully crafted messages, memes, and artworks will quietly appear on a billboard or be installed in on a street or in a park. We work with local governments and organizations to find the right place for the right creative intervention.
Let the military-industrial complex plod on, it’s the reality-imagination complex that is calling us to spark hearts and minds to reclaim authorship of tomorrow.
Releasing provident art and ideas into our culture 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 “night cacti” painting commission: Laura Garcia Serventi
Ajo Plaza photo: Bill Perry