'It's the best part of the project': Wyland paints with area students to encourage arts and science

Savannah Vasquez
Wyland poses with Destin Middle School students after painting a mini-mural with them for the Coast to Climate Challenge.

A crowd of more than 150 excited children waited eagerly for a chance to paint a mini mural with world renown artist Robert Wyland Wednesday. The students from Bluewater Elementary School were taking part in the Wyland Foundation educational program Water Is Life and the subproject Coast to Climate Challenge. The challenge encourages students across the nation to create a sea-life mural and compete for a chance to win art supplies and custom Wyland artwork for their schools.

“The Wyland Foundation began in 1993 and it originated around the promotion of art, science and ocean conservation,” said Steve Creech, Wyland Foundation executive director. “It has since expanded its mission with our program, Water Is Life, when we thought four years ago, ‘Hey, we can’t protect the oceans unless we protect our water-sheds and streams.’”

Now every year, the Wyland Foundation travels across the nation for a month with their message of water conservation, marine-life education and of course an art challenge.

“The idea is to get them thinking of how to envision a better environment,” said Creech. “We get them at a young age, get them involved in the sciences and the arts because the arts are a gateway for all academics. Ultimately we want to save our oceans and this is how we go about urging people to do this.”

The educational program Wednesday began inside of Lulu’s restaurant with an interactive presentation by marine mammal biologist and educator Christie Gonzalez.

“One of the big things we do is use Prezi which turns our presentation into a 3-D experience,” said Gonzalez. “We also use a puzzle and get 14 kids to work together to see how fast they can accomplish it.”

Gonzalez said that the point of getting the students to work together is to teach them teamwork and problem solving for the real-world.

“We want them to grasp that it takes more than one person to tackle big environmental issues but it doesn’t matter how much they do, as long as they are doing something,” she said. “We are trying to empower the kids so they are emotionally invested and know they can make a difference no matter how old they are.”

When the presentation concluded, the students made their way outside for the art portion of the program with the one and only Wyland.

“Are you guys ready to make history?” Wyland asked the children. “Who knows what the most dangerous animal on the planet is?”

After a number of guesses such as sharks and alligators one child got the answer Wyland was searching for, Humans.

“Yes, humans; us,” said Wyland. “We need all you kids to learn everything you can to make sure we have a healthy planet in the future. It’s all up to you guys to save the planet.”

Soon everyone was painting; Wyland worked on a large outline of a manatee while the children began to create sea creatures of their own. It didn’t take long before the white canvas burst into life with brightly colored jelly-fish, sharks, clown-fish and other sea-life.

“At every project I get to paint with kids, we’ve painted with over one million children; it’s the best part of the project,” Wyland said. “I am really concerned about art disappearing from the public school system.”

Wyland said his inspiration to work with children came from his own curiosity as a child.

“I was born around water with the Great Lakes in Michigan and I was 14 when I saw the ocean for the first time,” he said. “I studied marine life, and I wanted to be a scientist but I’m a pure artist.”