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Sonoran Desert Inn courtyard with farm
One of the Ajo Plaza's historic churches, a 5 minute walk from the Sonoran Desert Inn
Nearby Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
View from the Sonoran Desert Inn
Guest Room

Sonoran Arts Residency

In fall 2018 the Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center is piloting a new two-week artist residency. This residency is open to emerging, established or master artists, giving them the opportunity to retreat from the day-to-day hustle and focus on a new or existing project. Ajo is a beautiful, quiet, little-known town in the middle of Arizona's Sonoran Desert, ideal for a focused period of creative output and experimentation. Our community is full of artists of all kinds and looks forward to welcoming visiting artists from across the country and around the globe.

For this initial pilot, we are deliberately keeping the application process wide open. There is no prescribed theme or medium, and no specific type of artist we are looking for, though preference will be given to Native and Latinx individuals to highlight the historic (and historically underrepresented) populations of this region. We hope to encourage a broad pool of applicants and learn from this pilot so that we might refine and grow this program in the coming years.

Features of the residency include:

Peaceful Living Space: visiting artists will be given a kitchenette room at the Sonoran Desert Inn for the duration of their stay. Our rooms, all former elementary school classrooms, are comfortable, air conditioned, spacious, and full of light. The kitchenette, stocked with a coffeemaker (and locally roasted coffee), fridge, microwave, stove, pots, pans and dishes, will allow residents to easily prepare their own simple meals.

All rooms are on the ground level and open onto a lovely central courtyard, the centerpiece of which is an urban farm managed by our partners the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Focused Work Space: visiting artists will also be provided, at no cost, with a large, air conditioned classroom as their studio space. Classrooms are approximately 800 square feet and have five 8-foot windows, letting in lots of natural light. They are equipped with an artist sink; hi-speed WiFi; cabinets, closets and shelving for storage of supplies; and tables and chairs (which can be removed if not needed).

We also have a clay studio, wood shop, commercial kitchen, and theater space available for artists working in those media, as well as outdoor work spaces for artists wishing to work en plein air (bear in mind the desert is still hot in early fall).

While we welcome artists working in any medium to apply, there are some limitations to the work space and available equipment. See application for details.

Community Contributions: we envision this residency as a chance for visiting artists to contribute to the growing arts community in Ajo. We also see value in inviting the Ajo community to contribute to the quality of each visiting artist's experience. To this end, we have curated a collection of "community perks" for each artist that includes donations like use of a private saltwater pool, access to a golf cart to explore town, free yoga classes, locally-grown and produced treats, and invitations to suppers hosted by Ajo artists and residents.

We will also ask each visiting artist to design their own community contribution. This could take the shape of a workshop, a demonstration, a talk, an open studio, a performance, or a piece of artwork left behind for Ajo to remember them by.


Ajo, Arizona: United States

We bet that Ajo is like no place you’ve been before. It’s a small town in the middle of the magnificent Sonoran Desert, two+ hours from the nearest cities (Phoenix and Tucson) and forty miles from the Mexican border. There is no movie theater, pho joint, or microbrewery; no Walmart, Starbucks, or Courtyard Marriott. Instead, there is beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture, a rich history, spectacular scenery, and a vibrant tri-cultural community of artists, families, desert rats and retirees. We like to call Ajo “somewhere in the middle of nowhere”, and that sums up why it’s ideal for a residency: it’s a place to be inspired and energized, awed and opened up, far from your daily routines and realities. It’s quiet, but the howls of coyotes fill the air. It’s calm, but the landscape is brimming with saguaro and ocotillo and organ pipe. It’s dark at night, but look up and you’ll see the brightest night sky imaginable. It feels like a sleepy little town, but hidden here are creatives of all types: artists, entrepreneurs, makers, builders. Come join them.


  • Residency Length: 2 weeks
  • Average number of artists in residence at a time: 2
  • Number of artists accepted in most recent year: NA - new program
  • Total applicant pool in most current year: NA - new program


  • Application type: Open application
  • Collaboration: Must apply and be accepted individually
  • Geography: Open to US artists, Open to non-US artists
  • Additional eligibility information: 

    We are welcoming artists at all stages of their career, with preference given to Native and Latinx artists to reflect the often underrepresented historic population of this region. Writers and visual, performing, culinary, and healing artists are all invited to apply. You may come to launch new work, make progress on an existing project, or finish up something you’ve been working on for many years.

  • Application deadline: June 15
  • Application Ongoing: No
  • Additional deadline info:
    Fall applications are due June 15, 2018. Applicants can expect a response by July 15, 2018.

Past Residents & Quotes

I scheduled a week at the Sonoran Desert Conference Center to finish working on a book...The rooms were immaculate, quiet and spacious, and the hosts were friendly, informative, and welcoming...what really struck me about my stay was the beauty and the vibe of the Sonoran Desert Conference Center - red-tiled roofs, a beautiful organic garden in the center, and mountain views outside my window. My visit met every creative and romantic expectation! I plan to return again, and often.
— Leigh Hopkins

Facilities & Services

  • Housing: Private bedroom in a shared housing facility
    The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center (SDCC) is a converted elementary school that opened in 1948, closed in the mid-1990s, and was lovingly renovated in the 2010s. It re-opened as a non-profit inn and event space in 2015 and is rapidly becoming a destination for artists, travelers, conferences, retreats and workshops. Please explore our website and visit our social media pages for reviews, photos and updates. You will be housed at the SDCC in a kitchenette room with 1 king or 2 queen beds, private bath, seating area, desk, and a small kitchen with refrigerator, microwave and stovetop. While there will be other guests coming and going throughout your stay, the property is fairly quiet during early fall.
  • Meals: Residents make own meals/groceries provided
    There will be opportunities for hosted meals and studio visits with residents at the Curley School Artisan Apartments and other local artists during your time in Ajo. We will also respect those visiting artists’ who express a desire for privacy and limited interaction so they can focus on their work.
  • Computer/internet access: Computer and internet connection provided in common area (shared), Computer and internet connection provided in living or studio area (private), Wireless Internet
  • Accessibility: housing/grounds/studios are accessible
    All guest rooms are on the ground level and one of those available for the residency is ADA-friendly.
  • Studios/special equipment: Ceramics / Pottery, Dance / Choreography, Painting, Photography (digital), Theater, Woodworking
  • Additional studio information: 
    You will also be granted a large classroom as your studio space. Classrooms are approximately 800 square feet with counter space, artist’s sink and large windows providing lots of natural light. Alternative work spaces may be available for artists working in clay, wood, performing arts, or that prefer outdoor workspace (keeping in mind that it is hot in Ajo in early fall). We also welcome culinary artists - we have a well-equipped commercial kitchen!
  • Other facilities and services: We are a 5 minute walk from the historic Ajo Plaza, where many services are available (cafe, post office, library, yoga studio, galleries, etc).

Residency Fees

Visiting artists will pay for their travel, most meals, and shipping of materials. Your kitchenette guest room, studio space, and a collection of “community perks” come at no cost to you. There is no application fee at this time.

Stipends / other support

We have curated a collection of "community perks" for each artist that includes donations like use of a private saltwater pool, access to a golf cart to explore town, free yoga classes, locally-grown and produced treats, and invitations to suppers hosted by Ajo artists and residents.

Additional expectations / opportunities

You will be asked in your application to design a community contribution as a way to leave your mark on Ajo and inspire the community and fellow artists. This might take the shape of a talk, gallery show, demonstration, workshop, or a piece of artwork that stays behind. It will be developed and scheduled in consultation with the SDCC’s Co-Directors. As a pilot program, we will be seeking feedback and input from visiting artists to refine the program. This will likely include an exit interview and written survey upon conclusion of your residency. This residency is designed to allow focused, productive work time for individual artists. With this in mind, we do not allow pets, companions/spouses, children, or drug use. Smoking is allowed only in designated outdoor areas.

Contact Information

55 South Orilla Ave
Ajo, Arizona 85321
United States
Tel: 520-775-2565