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Nora Sherwood’s artwork of harbor seals is part of a new exhibit opening at the VAC, which will be on display through Oct. 30.

NEWPORT — A new art exhibit celebrating the diversity of Oregon’s marine reserves opens in the Runyan Gallery at the Newport Visual Arts Center (VAC) this Saturday, Oct. 2. 

The exhibit, “Reserve Inspiration,” features work from nine regional artists and is a collaboration between the Audubon Society of Lincoln City (ASLC) and the five marine reserves on the Oregon coast.

“The value of the exhibit is that many of the artworks show us what is above the surface of the marine reserves, such as the seabirds, the marine mammals and the spectacular adjacent landscapes,” Steve Griffiths, ASLC vice-president, said. “They also show us what is below the surface in a variety of ways, from underwater photography to colorful ceramic representations of rockfish, and scientific illustrations of creatures found in tidepools.”

The ASLC designated August 2021 as Marine Reserve Awareness Month to raise visibility and understanding of the Oregon marine reserves. Marine reserves are areas in coastal waters dedicated to conservation and scientific research. All removal of marine life is prohibited, as is ocean development. Marine Protected Areas are adjacent to the reserves. Ocean development is still prohibited, but some fishing activities are allowed.

Oregon created these marine reserves to conserve marine habitats and biodiversity. They also serve as living laboratories where scientists can learn about Oregon’s nearshore ocean environment and the effects that protections — no fishing and conservation — have over time on the marine environment. This research is helping inform how to best manage our coastal waters into the future.

The “Reserve Inspiration” exhibit originally opened in August in the Chessman Gallery at the Lincoln City Cultural Center and featured seven artists. The exhibit at the VAC is sponsored by Friends of Otter Rock and the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve Collaborative and includes two additional artists.

“Our goal is to educate the public about the presence of our five Oregon marine reserves — from Cape Falcon in the north to Redfish Rocks in the south, plus the three that are right offshore here in Lincoln County — Cascade Head, Otter Rock, and Cape Perpetua,” Griffith said. “These reserves are important in preserving a diversity of marine species and serving as living laboratories to study the short and long-term changes that are occurring in the ocean environment, such as the impact of climate change.”

Dennis White, president of the Friends of Otter Rock (co-sponsor of the exhibit), board member of ASLC and a featured artist in the exhibit, said this year is more important than ever to raise awareness about the marine reserves. “The marine reserves were on a 10-year trial,” explained White. “In 2023, the government will make a decision on the fate of the reserves on whether they will continue to fund them.”

The “Reserve Inspiration” exhibit includes paintings, ceramics, photography, science illustrations and mixed-media works. A public opening will be held on Saturday, Oct. 2, from noon to 4 p.m., with available artists speaking at 2 p.m.

Nora Sherwood is the exhibit’s curator, the secretary of the ASLC and is an artist in the show. She said the project is about bringing awareness to the marine reserves in an accessible way. “The art in this exhibit is a people-friendly way to do that,” she said. “I think people will see the subject matter in different perspectives, from literal photos of marine life to abstract paintings.”

Sherwood said the selection of artists in this show was not that difficult because of the amazing talent in this community. “I looked at my peers and thought about who is interested in this subject matter,” she said. “I was really looking for a blend of styles and media.”

One unique feature of this art exhibit is the addition of scientific information related to each art piece. “In addition to the usual details about the artist, the medium and the price, these pieces will have a separate wall tag that will include information about the history or science of the subject,” explained Tara DuBois, communications coordinator for the Cape Perpetua Area Collaborative, one of the co-sponsors of the exhibit. “We hope people will come, enjoy the art and learn more about our marine life.”

“Reserve Inspiration” runs through Oct. 30.

The Newport Visual Arts Center adheres to all health and safety protocols provided by the governor’s office, as well as the city of Newport. All visitors to the VAC are required to wear proper masks.

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