Plastic pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing — it’s common to feel overwhelmed and powerless when we see and hear about the exponential decline of the health of our oceans. But Danni Washington, founder of the nonprofit the Big Blue & You, has found a positive way to enact change by inspiring youth to fall in the love with the ocean through art at the ArtSea Festival, taking place this Saturday.
“Art is the universal language, and it's always at the forefront of any social movement and social change...[ArtSea] is designed to be a fun and positive intro to the ocean [for kids]. They will leave with excitement for being an ocean activist and an environmentalist. When someone wants to protect what we have left, it can be a heavy topic, a bit of an existential crisis: These problems are so big — how can I help? But we want the kids to be empowered and excited so they can play a role in the future,” says Washington, who also hosts the STEM television show, Xploration Nature Knows Best.
ArtSea, which is in its seventh year, is a volunteer-run event held at Virginia Key Beach Park. The location is meaningful for Washington and her mission. “We chose Virginia Key because... it was the only beach for African-Americans [from the 1940s to the 1960s during Jim Crow era]. Nobody brown or black was allowed to go to Miami Beach or Haulover Beach, so the county created this 'colored only' park,” says Washington, who is a Miami native with Jamaican roots.
“[Virginia Key] holds a lot of history for the African-American community in South Florida. It’s about regaining that sense of having access, feeling like you belong somewhere. The ocean is for everyone. We want every single child to know that the ocean is here and it’s a place for fun, restoring themselves, peace, understanding, and education. It’s up to us to take care of it. The art is the base point to help relay that message.”
ArtSea Festival integrates art and science through a packed programming schedule of activities and performances. Marine science students from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s Ocean Kids program will lead ten different interactive science stations, which are hosted by the FAU Elasmobranch Research Lab, Broward County Parks Sea Turtle Conservancy, the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation, Coral Reef Restoration Foundation, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, and the Miami-Dade Sea Turtle Conservation Program.
ArtSea will also offer art booths that correspond with the topics at the science stations. The South Florida artists participating in the show work in a variety of mediums, including mural and sculpture. This year’s artists are Luis Valle, Kim Rizio, Avery Bradt, Eric Tuto, Marcos Conde, Samantha Joy Beverly, Sonya Sanchez Nieto, Meme Ferre, Kareem Fletcher, Chy Tea, and Isabel Gouveia. To help guide the kids through all the parallel art and science activity stations, the festival will hand out “ArtSea Passports,” and participants will receive a gift bag after they collect all the stamps.
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In addition to experiencing the educational and artistic activities, families will be entertained by performances by the National Water Dancers, the Bahamian Junkanoo Parade, and a drum circle with On the Go Music. Guests can also keep their minds and bodies active through beach meditation with wireless headsets, paddleboarding and kayaking lessons, and kids' yoga. Attendees will even have the opportunity to meet and pose for photos with the Mocha Mermaid, played by Washington herself, and the Plastic-Free Mermaids, Keyla and Kimberly Correia.
For Washington, combining art and ocean conservation is personal. “I love the Jacques Cousteau quote ‘You protect what you love.’ I went to UM and studied marine biology and fell in love with outreach. I wanted to find in Miami a community to engage in the conversation to conserve our most valuable resource, the ocean. There was a disconnect between academia and the research and what the public understood about our coastlines in Florida. I wanted to bridge that gap and use art to communicate that message, [because] I’ve always been an artist myself,” she says.
“I want to inform and activate the younger generation of ocean activists who will be the defenders of the big blue when they are older. They will understand that the health of the ocean is inextricably related to your lifestyle. Everything you do will impact the ocean, and the ocean will impact you too.”