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Washed Ashore: Can Art and Education Change Attitudes on Plastic Waste?

It takes someone special to see the world in a different light and encourage others to do the same, just like Washed Ashore’s vision and the phenomenal talent of its founder,  Angela Haseltine Pozzi. Frank, one of the team, gives us an insider’s look to this team of artists, visionaries, and public educators and how they are using art and education to change attitudes on plastic waste.

The vision behind Washed Ashore is a simple one- to make people look and re-think, and to change attitudes on plastic. To the founder, Angela, and her team, art is meant to be both creative and educational. They all thoroughly believe in the power of the arts to educate the public about marine debris and encourage changes in consumer habits that will lead to less plastic and marine debris in our environment.

“Art, when created with unique materials, as we do, gathers attention and stimulates emotion. We have often been told that our creations are “both beautiful and horrifying”. They deliver the message that “something needs to be done to save our sea life and our planet”.

Angela’s vision stems from her childhood experiences and connection to a particular place. As a child, Angela always liked making art out of used materials. Both her parents were artists, and it is said that her mother used to take her to the local landfill on weekends to get her ‘art supplies’ (prior to founding Washed Ashore, she had won awards for her art made from recycled materials). She was inspired to start Washed Ashore about 10 years ago, following the death of her husband, and was living in Bandon, Oregon, a long-time family summer retreat.

Angela noticed people on the local Ocean beach were picking up agates and other interesting items, but not the plastic trash. She realized plastic trash was damaging the beaches she loved, and she chose to act. Thus, Henry the Rock Fish, one of Washed Ashore’s first pieces, was born, and their slogan, “Art to Save the Sea”

Angela decided that to draw attention to the amount of trash on the beaches and in the sea that she would make lifelike sculptures of the very sea life threatened by the trash. Volunteers also directly engage with the works, but by picking up the trash and making the sculptures- this makes it personal and gives people a real chance to engage with the issue of plastic pollution.

With national exhibitions across the US, their message is clearly making an impact. They’ve been lauded at a US State Department Ocean Conference, had sculptures displayed at a United Nations Ocean Conference in New York (see photo at the end of this article), and have a piece currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. In addition to these amazing achievements, they’ve had  4 traveling Exhibits that tour the country, with one presently at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and also at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, and Mounts Botanical Gardens in West Palm Beach, Florida. You can find more about their past, present, and future exhibitions here: http://washedashore.org/exhibit-locations/

Even with national success, the team remains committed to local public engagement and education. To this day, many local people, as well as passing tourists, stop by the local Oregon Gallery and Volunteer Workshop to help build the newest art. (The very same place the first art, ‘Henry the Rock Fish’, was created!)  However breathtaking each exhibit is, every art piece is educational at heart. All have signage explaining the pollution problem, which then suggests ways that we can lessen the amount of debris in the environment.

Take Action!

It was refreshing to hear about Washed Ashore’s unique approach to education and community action, and how they have begun to change attitudes toward plastic and other ocean-bound waste. Here’s how to get involved:

If you’re lucky enough to be near Oregon, USA, you can visit their facility (see website for details) and get involved in the latest art. (For everyone else, here are some great videos instead).

If you’d like to spread the message and host an exhibition or volunteer, the team would be delighted to hear from you. If you’d like to support their breathtaking work, you can donate here. There are also opportunities for corporate sponsorship for many of the exhibitions.

Parrot fish sculpture made from recycled plastic
Using art and education to change attitudes to plastic waste. Photo credit: Washed Ashore
Angela Haseltine Pozzi is founder of Washed Ashore, a travelling exhibit of artworks made from recycled plastics. She is the Executive Director at Artula Institute for Arts and Environmental Education.
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