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Sprucing up the KMS entrance with marine debris

Sprucing up the KMS entrance with marine debris
By Noelle H. Lowery

Kodiak Island Borough school district students have a knack for turning trash into amazing artistic treasures.

Remember Ophelia, the marine debris octopus? Kodiak High School students created the eight-armed art installation for the Seward SeaLife Center out of marine debris collected — mostly plastic objects — on Alaska’s beaches.

Now, with the help of artist-in-residence and former KHS teacher Bonnie Dillard, Kodiak Middle School art students, teachers and parents are making their own artistic contribution with a bear and salmon mural planned for the front entrance of KMS. The principal material for the mural: marine debris.

School representatives were on hand at the May 8 Board of Education work session to discuss the art project and its installation with the BOE and KIBSD administration. KMS student River Limchantha told BOE members that the project definitely “opened eyes (the students’) eyes to see how much trash is around the island.”

To be sure, marine debris is a major problem for Alaska, especially Kodiak. In fact, Island Trails Network made marine debris removal one of its major functions in 2007, and today is the primary local organization engaged in on-the-ground marine debris clean-up and removal efforts throughout the Kodiak Archipelago. ITN’s first community cleanup event resulted in 2,400 lbs of marine debris being removed from Kodiak-area beaches.

From 2008-2013, ITN partnered with the Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation to conduct 14 marine debris community clean-ups around the Kodiak Archipelago, removing 21 tons of marine debris from the marine environment while educating dozens of volunteers about the impacts of the marine debris phenomenon.  Cleanup sites during this period included Long Island, Halibut Bay and Sitkinak Island.

Just last year, ITN completed the Shuyak Island Community Marine Debris Cleanup. During a two-month span, teams of volunteers traveling the coasts by kayak removed 35,036 lbs of marine debris over a contiguous span of 45.1 miles of shoreline.

According to KMS Principal Jethro Jones, the school's art project was born of a desire to beautify KMS and has been more than a year in the making. School administration and the Parent-Teacher-Student Association had been working on ideas to enhance the appearance of the KMS front entrance. A tree was donated by a parent, and fundraisers were held. The goal was to make “an artistic sign that said welcome or main entrance.”

In the end, students raised money to provide matching funds for the state’s “Artists in Schools” program “to pay for someone to organize the artistic vision,” explained Jones, in an interview outside of the BOE meeting. Made possible through a partnership between the Alaska State Council on the Arts (a division of the Department of Education and Early Development) and the National Endowment for the Arts with additional support from the Rasmuson Foundation, “Artists in Schools” supports the inclusion of professional teaching artists in schools that are often underserved in the area of the direct art instruction. Interested school districts apply for the grant program and supply matching support.

Enter Dillard, who, with the help of KMS art teachers Denise Anderson and Karly Gundersen, worked with students to create so much more than a simple sign. The concept includes a three-dimensional mounted mural covering most of the entrance of the school with a stream full of salmon and a hungry Kodiak bear — all made with marine debris collected by students from around Kodiak.

“Working with a great artist like Bonnie Dillard made it possible for (the project) to be so much more,” said Jones. “She brought life into an idea in a way only she can. Making the structure three-dimensional adds to the beauty and catches the eye more.”

Limchantha told the BOE that the project’s design is an important reminder for students, teachers, parents and the community to take care of our island community by disposing of trash properly and by doing something productive with the trash we find. 

With mural components complete, it is now up to KIBSD and Kodiak Island Borough to go over the specifics of mounting the installation in a way that will protect it and make it permanent.

Keep your eyes on KMS to watch the transformation!