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Art exhibit with focus on climate change opens Saturday

October 6, 2018

LA CONNER — Climate change is changing glaciers, forests, flood systems and more in the Northwest, and an effort to shine light on those impacts in a unique way will open to the public Saturday.

In the third Surge exhibit hosted by the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, dozens of pieces of art will explore how a warming world is shaping resources in Skagit County and beyond.

The exhibit runs through Jan. 6.

For this year’s exhibit, 21 artists worked with 13 scientists on projects including paintings, glass work, sculpture and photography.

The scientists are members of the Skagit Climate Science Consortium, which is a group of area researchers studying the impacts of climate change in the Skagit River watershed, which runs from the icy peaks of the North Cascades to the marine waters of the Salish Sea.

The artists used their preferred mediums to reflect the data compiled by those researchers about issues including melting glaciers, drying forests, shifting marshes, rising sea levels and the increasing risk of coastal storm surge.

“The quality of the artwork that I’ve seen so far is outstanding in terms of design, messaging and pure creative passion,” forester Dave Peterson, one of the participating scientists, said. “The body of work in the exhibit is very diverse in terms of the natural resource issues addressed and the media used by artists.”

Peterson said he’s excited about the exhibit, and was particularly impressed with artist Rachel Lodge’s animation in watercolor.

“(It) tells a beautiful and scientifically accurate story about carbon cycling. You can literally see the carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms moving through the atmosphere and forests. Almost mesmerizing,” Peterson said.

This will be the third and longest-running Surge exhibit since the museum partnered with the Skagit Climate Science Consortium on the project.

That exhibit began as a weekend event in September 2015. It was expanded to one week in September 2016.

The museum decided in 2017 to skip Surge, allowing more time for collaboration and preparation before the next exhibit.

Having more than a year to prepare allowed several of the artists to join scientists in the field, to get an on-the-ground sense of their research and the climate change impacts they’re seeing.

Peterson gave artists Lin McJunkin and Ann Vandervelde a tour of a local forest, describing the signs of drought and insect infestations that are worsened by climate change.

Researchers Greg Hood and Roger Fuller each took groups of artists to Skagit Bay salt marshes, where they showed them signs of eroding and shifting marshland, and changes in the types of plants being seen.

The hope of those involved in the exhibit is that the art will help convey the science to visitors of the museum.

“It’s critical that we find ways to connect people with the scientific foundation of climate change and other natural resource issues. Art is visual and emotional, so it’s more likely to engage the interest of a nonscientist than a bunch of data,” Peterson said.

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