Art from disaster

Trashy art.

Trashy art.

By now, the reactions to the BP oil tragedy have been too many to tally. Angst, despair, fury, retribution. The inevitable ducking under desks. Humor, from talking cats, to the well-traveled satire of coffee spilled on a conference-room table, to a Libertarian call to privatize the ocean, which gave Auntie Ruth a giggle. Anyway, 24-hour news culture is adept at turning awfulness inside out and leaving no nuance unexamined, which isn’t making the world any better, just providing an ever-accelerating capacity to dispense the sorrow du jour. One must dig a little deeper for gentle tidbits of light. Maybe that’s why so many people like Facebook.

Auntie Ruth found such a tidbit on her friend’s F.B. page some time back. Maureen McGarry of Arcata launched an installation that started with a despairing environmental observation, then extended to the education of the young and then onward into art. Pretty cool.

The subject was the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a gyre in the Pacific the size of Texas that, due to circular ocean currents, has corralled high concentrations of plastics that don’t break down entirely. According to Ruth’s friend, “You can go out into the ocean, put a cup into the water—it comes up with pieces of plastic.” In an eerie echo of the Gulf tragedy, albatrosses are mistaking it for plankton, eating the plastic, feeding it to their young. And dying.

Sickened by the phenomena, Arcata Mayor Mark Wheetley made the comment that he wished a huge pile of plastic waste could be gathered in one place, to dramatize the scope of the ongoing disaster. McGarry took his comment on a different tangent.

With a help from the California Coastal Commission’s Whale Tail License Plate Fund program, the Arcata Elementary School District and the Arcata Community Recycling Center, a series of classes to educate the students about the gyre was held. Next came an environmental effort to gather 6,000 pieces of plastic up off of area beaches, then finally the staging of a one-day installation of art, pictured above.

Students gathered around, the cameras clicked and the mayor lead the kids in a pledge to “keep the land, beach, and sea litter free.” Ruth’s friend, a well-established muralist in Humboldt County, was happy: “It was pretty much everything I pictured in my mind before we started the project.”

Thanks. These days, this kind of thing is evermore needed. And necessary.