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Mired in the responsibilities of every day, it is often all too easy to get stuck in the details, making it difficult to take a step back and see the bigger picture of life. Artist John Quigley, along with more than 3,500 Los Angeles Unified School District students, aims to jog people out of that narrow view on May 15 -- Kids Ocean Day -- by creating a larger-than-life work of art with an environmentalist message on Dockweiler State Beach.
"We wanted to get back to the basics with this piece," said Quigley, who has directed this art event for more than twenty years. "This year, the art work will show what the ocean would say, if it could talk." Part human installation, aerial photography, and political activism, Quigley marshals volunteers into a pre-determined formation to create a powerful, ephemeral message using their bodies, much like photographers Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas did when they arranged thousands of soldiers in a patriotic formation in the early 20th century.
This year, the artist has chosen to draw a large speech bubble emanating from the ocean, bearing a message for the world. What that message is, the public will have to wait to find out this Thursday.
The art piece is just a small part of a larger, year-round school assembly program by the Malibu Foundation for Environmental Education. Sponsored by the City of Los Angeles Stormwater Program, a project of the Bureau of Sanitation, the program teaches kids to be proactive about taking care of their environment, especially the water resources around them. In school assembly sessions, Malibu Foundation for Environmental Education founder Michael Klubock engages young minds to think about the beach as part of a whole ecosystem. He helps them understand that because they all live in one watershed, litter just outside one's street can someday find its way to our waterways and oceans, causing irreparable harm to marine life.
At the end of the program, armed with an increased awareness of their role in the oceans, 70 busloads of students will be brought to the beach to experience its beauty --some for the very first time. The students will also be cleaning up the ocean -- every student on average picks up to a half a pound of trash each year, which will then be disposed of or recycled appropriately.
The children's final act is to gather together to form this aerial art piece. "It's an educational loop that reinforces and validates good behavior toward nature," explains Quigley. The program first educates children about the harm human beings can inflict unknowingly on nature, and then it allows them to put their new knowledge to work. Finally, the artwork becomes a lasting message that Quigley hopes will stay with the children long after the day is done.
"Much like a powerful photograph can sometimes inform and inspire someone's identity, we're hoping that being part of this will help encourage future stewards of the earth and protectors of animals," said Quigley. "This is a moment that can help frame a life."
Kids Ocean Day has come far over the last two decades. During the first event, Quigley recalls, he simply had to run up and down the beach yelling to get people in formation. Now, volunteers help manage the large crowd of young, eager students, helping them find their place. The message is completed in a matter of half an hour.
Not only is the message directed at the children, Quigley hopes it is something other adults will also be moved by. "I hope it inspires people to take action. We all lead busy lives, but a message like this is a reminder that protecting Mother Earth is an ongoing process and that everyone should be moving quickly to protect her from further damage."
Photos from past Kids Ocean Days by Peter Kreitler, Spectral Q, Kids Ocean Day