New salmon mural promotes the art of sustainability

Nearly 100 volunteers from the greater Seattle area celebrated World Fish Migration Day in May by painting a large mural in the shape of a salmon, and learning environmental lessons along the way.

The mural painting kicked off the 2016 World Fish Migration Day celebration at Ballard Locks in Seattle. This one-day, global event boosts awareness of the importance of open rivers and migratory fish. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle Aquarium volunteers, the Bioengineering Section of the American Fisheries Society, and NOAA Fisheries provided interpretive material about fish passage projects, fish tagging, and the health of local waterways.

Mural drawing before the volunteers arrived. Photo by Alicia Keefe, NOAA

The mural itself is the product of a NOAA Fisheries program, the Science in the Studio Award, which began in 2013 through a partnership with the Pacific Northwest College of Arts (PNCA). The program connects art students with NOAA staff and scientists. The goal is to use art to illustrate how community actions affect the health of marine and freshwater resources, and the actions people can take to protect them.

Artist Esteban Camacho Steffensen received the Science in the Studio Award in 2015 for designing the 6-by-12-foot mural painted at Ballard Locks. It illustrates the relationship between toxic runoff—which can kill an adult salmon in less than three hours—and the health of local watersheds. Steffenson’s mural is intended as a community-building project that can be completed by groups with a wide range of artistic abilities.

Photo by Alicia Keefe, NOAA

Eight high school students from the Seattle Art Academy kicked off the painting at Ballard Locks. While the blank canvas daunted some students, Steffensen’s coaching quickly reassured them.

“At first, you might be afraid of making mistakes, but I want you to feel free to experiment and make your first stroke with expression, determination, and an intention,” instructed Steffensen. “It doesn’t matter what it looks like, because like nature, a painting is made of many layers and as a whole it’s perfect.”

Steffensen’s natural teaching abilities helped several budding artists gain confidence. After painting part of the mural, one eight-year-old Girl Scout proudly exclaimed, “The artist said make it awesome, so we made it awesome!"

The Girl Scouts of Western Washington, YMCA Earth Service Corps, Seattle EcoWomen, students from the Salmon Bay School, and other individuals worked to complete the mural. After reflecting on her experience, one middle schooler thoughtfully commented, “I love that I got to participate in something that will last for generations to come.”

Supporters hoped that combining art with environmental issues will promote positive dialogue and change. “I hope that this mural inspires people to think about the actions they take at home and how their actions can impact our waterways,” remarked Katie McGillvray of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

By conducting community-based art events such as the one at Ballard Locks, NOAA Fisheries and our partners hope to encourage reflection, conversation, and learning around environmental issues. NOAA Fisheries would like to partner with other groups to bring the same mural to more communities along the West Coast.

If you are interested in hosting or sponsoring this mural, please contact Alicia Keefe.

NOAA Fisheries would like to thank the volunteers, and our partners who supported the mural painting:

Esteban Camacho Steffensen, Eco Muralist

Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Pacific Northwest College of Art

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Homepage photo by Alicia Keefe, NOAA