The Oregon Coast Visitors Association (OCVA) and SOLVE are looking for a few good artists interested in working with trash.

The two groups are exploring the idea of repurposing large amounts of marine debris by gathering, sorting, storing and offering it free to local artists and entrepreneurs to create art similar to the works created at Washed Ashore in Bandon.

“Washed Ashore has proven that such as concept is possible,” said Marcus Hinz, the executive director of OCVA. “We are seeking to majorly expand a similar model.”

The Washed Ashore venture aims to build and exhibit “aesthetically powerful art” to educate a global audience about plastic pollution in oceans and waterways and “spark positive changes” in consumer habits, its website reads.

Art created in its Bandon studio has been exhibited at SeaWorld in San Diego, and is currently on display at zoos and aquariums in Minnesota and Illinois, and in an ongoing 17-sculpture show at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Later this month, a collection will be exhibited in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The plastics problem

Artists in Bandon work with plastics that wash up on and are collected from beaches to create an array of marine creatures, say, using plastic grocery bags and soda bottles to make jellyfish, or cell phone covers, bottle lids, sunglass frames and other materials to make life-sized sharks.

“Once people actually know what it is, they’re like, ‘That’s really cool,’” said Katera Woodbridge of OCVA. “Until then, they’re like, ‘You’re going to make art out of trash?’ It can be done poorly.”

Seen from afar, the colorful installations are easily identified as art. But as the curious draw closer and realize what they are made of, most people take a much closer look.

That’s where the education component comes into play.

Washed Ashore is a non-profit community art project founded in 2010 by artist and educator Angela Haseltine Pozzi. She first recognized the amount of plastic washing up on the beaches and decided to take action.

Since then, Washed Ashore has processed tons of plastic pollution from Pacific beaches to “create monumental art that is awakening the hearts and minds of viewers to the global marine debris crisis,” the website reads.

About 300 million pounds of plastic is produced globally each year and less than 10 percent of that is recycled. Oregon has a statewide recycling goal of 30 percent — Curry County comes close each year, at about 27 percent — but many countries dump all their trash into local rivers.

The most polluted rivers in the world are in Asia — literal flowing swaths of trash — but the Mississippi is on that list, too, primarily due to chemicals and fertilizers that seep into the water from upstream states.

The problem is that plastics in the ocean are slowly broken down by sun and abrasion, oceanographers say. The smaller pieces — most invisible to the human eye — are swallowed in every gulp a fish takes trying to catch a microorganism. A larger fish eats the small fish, and the pollutants go along with it to the larger fish.

Many creatures, primarily birds, starve because the plastics cannot pass through their digestive system and they ultimately crowd out food the bird consumes.

But the larger fish end up on the dinner plates of people all over the globe: Salmon ala plastic fork.

Larger plastics wash ashore, or travel in five gigantic circular gyres in the world’s oceans. It’s hard to definitively say how large the trash gyres are, scientists say, but most agree the largest is about the size of Texas.

The plastic soup in those gyres permeates every water column.

According to a World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, the world can expect to see more plastic than fish, by weight, in our oceans by 2050.

Up the coast

Washed Ashore isn’t just making remarkable pieces of art, but doing its part through education to reduce the volume of trash floating around out there, Hinz said.

Visitors to the studio in Old Town Bandon gawk as they stroll through the “mouths” of giant fish and admiring the detailed “skeletons” made of yogurt cups, straws, flip-flops, water bottles and detergent containers.

In addition to offering the material to artists, OCVA and SOLVE are interested in commissioning large pieces of public art for coastal communities that do not currently have public art or that might desire more — or are interested in educating people about plastic pollution.

“Before launching this effort, we are assessing the potential demand for such materials to justify the expense it will take to make it happen,” Hinz said. “We believe that together we can keep Oregon Coast beaches clean and invest in community livability through public art.”

Interested artists and entrepreneurs are encouraged to take a survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HB9W85N so OCVA and SOLVE can determine the feasibility of pursuing the venture.

OCVA is known for its work promoting tourism along the Oregon Coast through Travel Oregon.

Originally called SOLV — Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism — SOLVE was founded by Gov. Tom McCall and other community leaders in 1969. It is best known for its beach cleanups every spring and fall.

Reach Jane Stebbins at jstebbins@currypilot.com .

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