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Art with a message coming to Green Bay Botanical Garden

By Donna Schuld

GREEN BAY – Giant animal sculptures crafted from discarded flip-flops and other plastic junk will give visitors at the Green Bay Botanical Garden something to ponder this summer.

The critical element in all eight pieces in the exhibit, “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea,” involves plastic junk washed up from bodies of water.
Making its Wisconsin debut May 8, “Washed Ashore” will promote awareness of the issue of plastic waste.

Linda Gustke, director of education and guest experience at the Green Bay Botanical Garden, said she hopes visitors will think about their own impact on the environment as they interact with the exhibit.

“We want to be able to connect that message of the plastic in the ocean to the plastic pollution issues just right here in our Great Lakes, in our rivers, in our streams, in all of the waterways,” said Gustke. “That’s really the mission of ‘Washed Ashore,’ too. It’s not just the oceans, all waterways have plastic pollution that’s causing issues for the animals, and also for the people and the land, and really everything in the ecosystem.”

This traveling exhibit, which is included with the regular price of admission, has made its way to other botanical gardens, and even The Smithsonian.

With creatures like fish and otters, “Washed Ashore” brings a seemingly distant problem home for viewers in the Midwest.

“For this particular exhibit, we actually commissioned the creation of a brand-new sculpture that will be at Green Bay Botanical Garden, making its premier debut called ‘Stanley the Lake Sturgeon’ to really help connect this issue back to our Great Lakes,” said Gustke.

Though these sculptures are large in scale, she said Wisconsin waters are dealing with the problem in a much smaller form.

“The biggest issue with plastic pollution in the Great Lakes is microplastics,” she said. “We don’t see as many of these flip flops, and bottles of water washing up on the shores of the Great Lakes, but it’s the microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic that are 5 millimeters or less in length. They’re all broken down from larger pieces and that’s what’s really the biggest issue here in the Great Lakes.”

Gustke acknowledges the effect this issue can have on a viewer.

“I don’t know if there will ever be a time when we don’t use plastics, but try not to get overwhelmed with it,” she said. “It takes baby steps to make some changes. This could be an overwhelming experience for folks, but we want to bring awareness and help them to find ways to make small changes at least to start with and then eventually bigger changes in their life, too. We can all be a part of reducing those single-use plastics.”

Gustke said the Green Bay Botanical Garden will try to set a good example by reducing the amount of plastic used by the public.

“We’re actually going to be replacing most of our plastic beverage containers at our events, and going to aluminum-based items, mostly cans,” said Gustke.

When asked about ways gardeners could use less plastic, she offers a tip that could also save money.

“Often people use landscape cloth to help keep weeds at bay, but you can also use cardboard, which will naturally break down and then help bring nutrients back into the soil, whereas that landscape cloth is typically plastic-based,” Gustke said.

She said a “Washed Ashore” scavenger hunt and discovery boxes will help engage children and adults in this educational exhibit.

She said the excitement is building as the exhibit, founded by artist and teacher Angela Haseltine Pozzi, debuts this May.

“As part of ‘Washed Ashore’ we’re also celebrating 25 years of being in the community, so there will be some other opportunities to get to know about our history and help us preserve this land for the next 25 years and more,” said Gustke.

The exhibit will be on display through Sept. 26.

For more information about the exhibit, CLICK HERE.

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