Empowering a Community of Young Artists and Advocates
January 18, 2019

Digital art by Lulu Kristanto (15, Indonesia)

“Art changes people and people change the world.”
—John Butler, musician

For teens around the world—from an illustrator in South Africa to a dancer in Alaska to a filmmaker in India—the Ocean Awareness Contest is a space to connect, create, and communicate for our ocean. It is a platform for teens to share their questions, concerns, visions, and hopes in a global discussion; it is a stage from which to share their voices and values in debates frequently dominated by adults; and it is a community of like-minded advocates, thinkers, and creators.

Carina Sun (15, Pennsylvania)

For many students, the Ocean Awareness Contest is a stepping-stone into the world of advocacy, shaping their attitudes about their own power to affect change, and empowering them to give a voice to the ocean even if they live hundreds of miles from a coast.

The artistic outlet provided by the Contest creates meaningful educational experiences for students that helps them not only understand new concepts, but also relate with ideas emotionally. The artistic process is a means to investigate—both knowledge and feelings around the topic—as well a means to find one’s authentic voice and the courage to share that voice.

Students are able to explore their feelings about human impacts on the Earth, and their paintings, poems, essays, songs, and films offer a productive outlet for the sadness or frustration that students often experience when researching climate change. Likewise, the arts help bring environmental issues to life for viewers, personally connecting them to concepts and inspiring them to take action. For makers and audiences alike, the arts are a catalyst for curiosity, awareness, and engagement with our natural world.

In a survey of participating students, we found that:

  • 70% report that the Contest increased their knowledge of ocean issues
  • 67% state that participating in the Contest impacted their worldview and behavior
  • 71% report that the Contest increased their confidence in their creative skills
  • 86% state that creating something (art/writing/music/film) helped them personally connect with the subject of climate change and its impact

The Ocean Awareness Contest cultivates something big, and something growing: a global community of young people—and the many educators, parents, and mentors who support them—who care about climate action and are speaking out about the changes they want to see for their future, their communities, and the many non-human inhabitants that they share this planet with. We are honored to witness, facilitate, and support this movement.

Here’s what our students have to say about the Contest, in their own words:

“Seeing the widespread ignorance of how our world is changing and how many communities have been harmed, I felt confused, afraid, and helpless, uncertain if there was anything I could do. At first, it was easy to feel pessimism and despair, but I found hope and optimism in the power of words to cause change and communicate messages to others.”

“I became more aware of how my actions could affect life around me, and especially marine life. The information I researched while participating in the Contest encouraged me to change to a better and greener lifestyle.”

“I learned a lot more about how interconnected human society is with the ocean. I will definitely do my part to protect the ocean in the future.”

“It showed me how broad the climate change impacts are, and that they also extend into social and cultural spheres (climate refugees, conflict). Further, it taught me not only about the issues, but the potential solutions.”

“I liked that [the Contest] was about such an important issue and that it provided a way for students or any young person to have a voice in this big world.”

“Just the fact of being able to artistically create something to bring about awareness of a major issue stood out to me.”

Additionally, teachers, parents, and other mentors who support participating students find the Contest to be an exciting and meaningful way to challenge their students to think creatively about complex global issues and push learning beyond the classroom and into the real-world.

Here’s what some of our 2018 Sponsors have to say about mentoring a student in the Ocean Awareness Contest:

“The Contest engaged my students in learning, adding a real-world element to last year’s 6th-grade Climate Change-Human Impact science unit. All students were excited by the creative connection to the science curriculum allowing them to display their learning in unique ways. As a teacher, I was thrilled to witness how the students dove into their research eager to learn more about the problems and possible solutions, especially solutions that they feel they have some control over. The passion for change my students exhibited as they learned about the pollution in our oceans will drive the change that needs to be made.”
Kimberly Renick, 6th Grade iSTEM Science Teacher, Timberlane Middle School (Pennington, NJ)

“At first glance, teaching an Oceans class at an Ohio high school does not always make sense to people. But when they realize that oceans are only as clean as the watershed headwaters, people begin to see the connection. The Ocean Awareness Contest fit seamlessly into my course, allowing students to express their research and themselves through their projects. One student created an entire art portfolio based on the theme; another is looking to become a park ranger now. My litmus for any assignment: is it dedicated to fostering the knowledge of and respect for the natural world in order to engender mindful human stewardship? The Bow Seat program far surpassed this.”
Jim Duxbury, Science Teacher, Orrville High School (Orrville, OH)

“Living in coastal Southeast Florida, we see firsthand the consequences of climate change and marine pollution on our delicate coral reef ecosystem. The Ocean Awareness Contest gives my students a creative and artistic outlet to not only express their frustrations with these issues but also hope for the future and possible solutions. For that, I am grateful!”
Mitchell Comiskey, 8th Grade Science Teacher, Forest Glen Middle School (Coral Springs, FL)

Interested in joining our community? The 2019 Ocean Awareness Contest is accepting submissions through June 17th!

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Empowering a Community of Young Artists and Advocates