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Can Art Help Halt Earth’s Trash Trauma? Yes! Say Conservationists

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure … or piece of art.


So says the Birch Aquarium and The New Children’s Museum, which recently joined forces to inform the public about the growing problem of trash in the environment — and they hoped to do it through art!


On Feb. 6, the aquarium hosted a sold-out reception and panel discussion, “Trash: Art & Science Intersect,” starring Dr. Nigella Hillgarth, executive director of Birch Aquarium; Miriam Goldstein, a graduate student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, who led an expedition to study the accumulation of ocean trash in the North Pacific Gyre; and Anna Mayer, an artist and assistant director of the Institute for Figuring, which is bringing awareness of the problem of trash through art work.


“We wanted to connect the dots between the artistic process and the scientific process and show how the two can fit together; for example, art education can help kids become better scientists by developing their innovative thinking,” said Gavon Morris, marketing manager at The New Children’s Museum.


Juliana Markoff, executive director of The New Children’s Museum, invited attendees to visit the facility at 200 West Island Ave., where there are currently 12 works of art that explore the problem of trash: What it is and how it effects all lives.


Birch Aquarium’s marketing manager, Jessica Crawford, said the aquarium hosted the event because “we feature the hands-on approach to learning that they emphasize at The New Children’s Museum, and because we know that the people of La Jolla are highly attuned to the issue of trash and pollution, living so close to the ocean.”


After introductions by Dr. Hillgarth, Miriam Goldstein discussed her three-week expedition with five other grad students on board the New Horizon to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to study the accumulation of floating plastic. She said they did not find one big island of accumulation, but rather a small trickle of plastics that stretched for thousands of miles.


Scientists are not sure of the effect of this trash on the ocean, but it has entered the food chain and was found in about 10 percent of the fish in the area.


Artist Anna Mayer talked about her hyperbolic coral reef crochet project that has sprung up in 23 locations worldwide. Participants work on a large, colorful coral reef of yarn that represents all the coral reef humans have lost to pollution and environmental degradation. Mayer said, “Scientists can learn from how artists see the world.”


A number of people in the audience were not convinced that trash and art should be linked, and they expressed offense that trash and pollution could be seen as art. One gentleman called it: “An abomination!”


The conclusion of the panel was that mankind should consume less, stop putting plastic into the ocean, and come together in collectives to discuss the future of trash in the environment.


Get Involved Project:
Juliana Markoff ended the evening with a challenge to all concerned: Collect your plastic trash for a week. Take a picture of it. Post the image at You’ll receive two free tickets to Birch Aquarium, and two free tickets The New Children’s Museum.


La Jolla Light

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