Coral Reef NOAA
May 24, 2016  

Student's Coral Reef Art Inspires Marine Conservation

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Video of artist Courtney Mattison and NOAA Administrator Dr. Lubchenco
Video of artist Courtney Mattison and NOAA Administrator Dr. Lubchenco, discussing the art exhibit, its creation and interpretation

A large-scale, 10-feet wide and nearly 15-feet high, ceramic coral reef art installation was on display in the lobby of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration headquarters in Washington, DC., from April through June. The ceramic exhibit is now on display at the AAAS headquarters until February 2012.

artist and NOAA Administrator, Dr. Lubchenco, in front of the art installation during the opening reception
Dr. Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator, with the artist during the opening reception of the installation. Photo credit: NOAA, Derek Parks

The work of art brings to the surface, and to the capital, a submarine scene more commonly viewed through a diving mask. Each piece in the installation is handcrafted ceramic. Various species of coral and other marine life—in varying states of vitality or degradation—populate the scene and tell a story of impacts to reefs from human-caused threats.

The installation combines marine conservation science and policy and social sciences with fine art. Artist Courtney Mattison interviewed dozens of artists, marine researchers, and environmental professionals about how art might promote coral reef stewardship and policy change. She used the prominent concepts that arose during those conversations, particularly, those regarding human interactions with reefs, to inform the design.

colorful close-up image of ceramic reef installation featuring pieces that represent several reef species
A close-up of a portion of the ceramic coral reef art installation by Courtney Mattison. Like live hard corals that secrete calcium carbonate skeletons to form reef structure, the ceramic reef also incorporates calcium carbonate—a common ingredient in ceramic materials. Photo credit: Courtney Mattison

"The exquisite diversity and complexity of coral reef organisms provide myriad opportunities for scientific discovery and artistic inspiration," says Mattison. Through her biology and fine art work, she developed an understanding of both the threats to coral reefs and the ability of art to evoke emotional connections to them. Mattison notes, "Perhaps if my work can influence others to appreciate the fragile beauty of our endangered coral reef ecosystems, we will act more wholeheartedly to conserve them."

The artist's statement is available here (pdf, 4.15 mb).