Can Art teach Science to teens? As Director at Community Stepping Stones, I got my chance to find out when a group of our young people decided to create a mural about how our daily lives impact Tampa Bay’s estuaries and waterways. One Waterway One Tampa Bay, a 12’ x 8’ portable, mosaic mural and art installation made entirely of plastic refuse, debuted at the Hillsborough Community College Art Gallery in Ybor City on June 15 to resounding accolades for creativity, communication and community engagement.
In case you don’t know, Community Stepping Stones is a nonprofit learning center offering an integrated arts curriculum designed to inspire, educate, and prepare at-risk youth to become successful adults. Using expressive arts projects, our teens tackle core subjects such as science and mathematics that require them to think critically, investigate, innovate and find practical solutions. The fun of imagination increases knowledge retention and encourages a joy for learning – thus improving in-school performance.
Funded by a mini-grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, our young people learned about coastal life through museum and aquarium trips, field expeditions and river, bay and beach clean ups. The young people were deeply distressed by the quantities of refuse they found, even in pristine areas, which led them to further investigations. Experts from the Tampa Museum of Photographic Arts helped to train the youth in photographic documentation techniques.
The resulting program had USF volunteers and neighbors assisting students by collecting river and bay flotsam and turning cleaned items into mosaic pieces. Those who have seen the mural are immediately drawn to touch the vast diversity of found detritus – for while it makes a beautiful picture, the net result tells a disturbing story of unintended consequences. Visitors are invited to participate in a scavenger hunt to find 40+ surprising items that make up the design.
The traveling mural is frequently displayed surrounded by strands of thousands of plastic bottles which remind visitors that the U.S. consumes 1500 water bottles every second of every day (and less than 20% are recycled.) The result: our waterways and oceans are being poisoned and our precious estuaries are endangered.
This “Call to Action” has been part of exhibitions throughout the Tampa Bay area. Following its appearance at the National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration (Oct. 20-25) at the Tampa Convention Center, the mural will reside on the V.I.P. suite level of the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the next year (exposed to 1.5 million visitors…WOW!)
Community Stepping Stones’ campus in historic Mann Wagnon Park along the Hillsborough River at the top of the Tampa Bay estuary system (where salt and fresh water first meet.) Manatees, alligators, waterfowl and a large assortment of turtle and fish are common sites along the peaceful riverbanks. Find out more about this wonderful organization by clicking here.
See photos of the teens work in progress by clicking here: Photos A