Painting For a Purpose: Bow Seat in New Zealand
April 12, 2017

by Alyssa Irizarry, Bow Seat’s Program Director

One of the best parts of my job is that our programming comes in many shapes and sizes – there is no “typical day” of being Bow Seat’s Program Director. I may be judging art entries in our annual Ocean Awareness Student Contest, leading fish printing workshops with high schoolers, or hosting a panel about environmental art at a conference. Some days I spend simply answering the many emails that come in from students from around the world.

Our latest project took me to sunny (well, most of the time) Napier, New Zealand. Our longtime partner and friends at PangeaSeed Foundation were leading their second annual Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans public art festival, and Bow Seat was a proud supporter of the activation.

On March 17th, over 20 artists from around the world invaded the city to create large-scale public murals that address the threats to our ocean ecosystems, such as plastic pollution, overfishing, and climate change. The weeklong festival also included local excursions and community activities, such as a beach cleanup with Sustainable Coastlines, an artist panel and discussion at the local art museum, and film screenings.

I had the amazing opportunity of participating as one of the supporting artists. Through our partnership with PangeaSeed, Bow Seat was invited to choose a winning art piece from our annual Ocean Awareness Student Contest to reproduce as a mural for the New Zealand event. We chose a piece titled “Escape” by Cooper Bodeo-Lomicky, who was an 8th grader when he submitted it to our Contest.

Cooper’s original design

My wall was located at Westshore School, a primary school located right across the street from Hawke’s Bay. I couldn’t have asked for a better location. Not only was it a beautiful spot with an ocean breeze to balance the midday sun, but with it came wonderful opportunities for both formal and informal education related to ocean pollution and the arts. Westshore students witnessed the mural-making process from start to finish, participated in conversations about plastic pollution and the ocean environment, and made their own art modeled after the mural design.

And not only did I have the opportunity to paint one mural… but my wall was double-sided! I created a design for the second side with the same design concept and palette. It was tribute to the black-billed gull, the most threatened gull in the world and found only in New Zealand. The overall mural aimed to illustrate our impact on wildlife both above and below the ocean’s surface.

Digital mock up of side 1’s design. Human hands were added to the design to prompt the viewer to consider: What do we create? What do we leave behind? Who owns the problem? How can we shape a better future? What responsibility do we hold in our hands?

Digital mock up of side 2’s design

Students making their own art about the Pacific Ocean and the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”

Painting my mural at Westshore was a wonderful educational opportunity for the students, but it also created a space for a meaningful exchange between artist and audience. It’s not often that artists have a group of pint-sized art critics scrutinizing their canvas, asking: Why are you doing that? How are you going to do that? What’s that for? It allowed for really organic conversations about the creative process, concepts of design, and expression. Many students had no questions at all, but simply wanted to observe. Westshore students were endlessly curious, heart-warmingly compassionate, and wicked smart.

It was a delightful reminder that kids are natural caretakers of our planet – inquisitive, motivated, and creative – and we must empower our future environmental leaders by giving value to their voices and visions.

Details and touch ups (Photo: Emily Raftery)

Q&A about the mural in progress (Photo: Olivia Laita)

Students present their works of art inspired by the mural (Photo: Olivia Laita)

School assembly, final mural presentation, and Q&A

Sea Walls Artists for Oceans Mural Alyssa Irizarry Bow Seat

Final mural, side 1 (Photo: Tre’ Packard)

Sea Walls Artists for Oceans Mural Alyssa Irizarry Bow Seat

Final mural, side 2 (Photo: Tre’ Packard)

We hope the mural will educate generations of Napier’s students about the impact of plastic pollution on our marine habitats and wildlife, remind them the role we all play in finding solutions, and motivate them to take action beyond their school walls.

In order to further engage young Napier-ians in the festival, Bow Seat also sponsored a family-friendly “Seaside Scavenger Hunt” along the beautiful coastal park in downtown Napier, which featured our Contest winners’ artwork and illustrated why the ocean needs our help. Successfully completing the hunt earned lucky participants a limited-edition Love Oceans Not Plastic reusable water bottle!

Thank you to everyone involved – from the PangeaSeed team and Sea Walls operations crew; to Westshore staff, students, and families; to the enthusiastic and inspiring group of muralists; to the community of Napier for welcoming us artists to your streets, restaurants, and shores. Bow Seat is proud and honored for the opportunity to bring our mission of engaging youth in ARTivism and ocean conservation to life in Napier during the activation.

At Bow Seat, we recognize the power of our young ocean caretakers, and our goal is to inspire them to lead the way to finding innovative solutions to ocean pollution. Middle and high schools students from around the world are invited to participate in our 2017 Ocean Awareness Student Contest. Submit works of visual art, poetry, prose, or film by June 19th!

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Painting For a Purpose: Bow Seat in New Zealand