When Art Meets Earth: Wyland’s Ocean Murals Inspire Kids to Care

wyland-exhibitApril 23, 2009 Wyland unveiled his latest original art at the world premiere of Disneynature’s Earth where it will remain on display through May at the historic El Capitan Theater in Hollywood.

Mind you, few kids think of art as media, much less a distribution channel to evoke a sea change of dedication to the planet or any cause.

Truth is, public art has the ability to nourish kids’ souls and jostle the imagination to amuse, inspire, instill hope, or in the case of The Wyland Foundation support the environment and be shaping youth hands-on in living color! (visual here from Wyland’s ‘Hands Across the Ocean’ exhibit last year in D.C. on the National Mall via woodleywonderworks Flickrstream)

Whether it’s inner city kids graffiti art transforming urban blight into cultural expression, or purposeful whimsy like the painted cow parades in Denver and Chicago or the giant hand-painted hearts left around San Francisco by my colleague Michael Osborne, art unites to create community and a sense of belonging FAR bigger than one’s own world.

Nowhere is this more pervasive than the massive murals of marine life artist and conservationist Wyland, who has helped to open the eyes of an estimated 1 billion people a year who may have never seen an undersea universe, much less experienced its fragility.

wyland-olympic1Wyland’s murals consistently capture kids’ interest, painting a rainbow of hope and promise for marine conservation that particularly resonates with children…

Kids won’t protect what they don’t know, understand, or relate to,  so I love that Wyland’s pervasive pop culture presence exposes kids to ocean advocacy in multiple ways. He’s like a worldwide ambassador for the creatures that live through his art.

Whether it’s a ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius: Faster, Higher, Stronger’ Olympic dolphin poster in Beijing or his final installment of his “100 murals whale-wall project,” he leaves a visual calling card as well as an emotional one, by mixing kids into the magic. In Beijing he invited children from 204 different countries to participate!

His latest press coup where we met last week was his 4000 sq. ft. original art unveiled for Disneynature’s Earth premiere. Whether it’s retouching his Guinness record-breaking 116,000 sq. ft. ‘Ocean Planet’ (Whaling Wall 33) in Long Beach, or a signature whale on an Aloha Airlines airplane tail Wyland’s art seems to show up everywhere, as does the man himself.

While many of my local artist friends in Hawaii and California sniff that his  creations are ‘over-exposed,’ I see an entirely different view…His work is  his mission.

There’s a reason he’s using art as media to communicate over four continents, twelve countries and earn recognition for his efforts from the Sierra Club to the United Nations…it can’t all be for big bucks, hotels and best sellers, otherwise he wouldn’t be donating his time sweating in a heat wave high atop the Long Beach Convention Center roof!

wyland-foundHis popularity enables him to use art as an outreach tool far beyond gallery exhibitions, museum sculptures, private collections or commercial ventures…He’s leveraged this time and again with his Wyland Foundation and ongoing work with children to convey the need to protect our natural waterways. (wetlands, streams, rivers, oceans)

My goddaughter, Lara (left of Wyland, below) was lucky enough to be among the youth volunteers helping paint a collaborative children’s mural while he was refurbishing the massive Whaling Wall 33 in Long Beach…

And it appears he does this stuff all the time…As next week he’ll be at the 13th Annual Children’s Water Festival educating 4-6th graders about conservation with hands-on fun relating to water issues…


We’ve found this hands-on element to be a critical element in our success with kids’ retention in our counter-marketing work at Shaping Youth, so it pleases me to no end that Wyland ‘walks the walk’ and incorporates his own art with marine sciences to yield the next generation of kids learning to comprehend the necessity of a greener planet.

whyreef1Sure, we can all dip into Whyville’s newly launched 3D WhyReef, with The Field Museum’s “virtual coral reef” to learn about biodiversity and ecosystems…

Yes, it IS VERY cool, and a big hit with tweens already, (already receiving more than 40,000 visits in the first ten days according to VWN)…but ultimately, it’s still missing that personal touch.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE that we can empower kids to help kids make a difference in 3D worlds like Elf Island’s WildAid Shark Quest, or via Polar Bears International, or their current Plant-It 2020 tree project to green the planet in Niger…Kids can create their avatars in Green.com and over 150 other virtual worlds, or connect with the newly launched Habitat Heroes, a global, social networking site for young eco-warriors

But as much as Shaping Youth keeps trying to “go digital” to scale our vision, the hands-on community grassroots engagement continues to be our most effective outreach tool for painting memories in the mind with staying power.

wyland-wallsChildren often learn informally and experientially, so while I love the online virtual world 3D engagement, it’s kind of like expecting Wyland’s new book “100 Whaling Walls” to try and capture the vastness and grandeur of one of his 3 acre murals via print.

There’s just nothing quite like being there in person…Kids love being in full tilt “go, see, do” mode to ramp up their tactile senses and embrace a love of learning…As Wyland’s newsletter reads,

“Volunteers will be needed to paint with children, assist with the maze and watershed mosaic set-up and break-down, guide children through the Water’s Extreme Journey maze, and to help out in the Wyland Foundation membership booth. Set-up volunteers must be able to kneel, bend, and stand for long periods of time and may be required to lift equipment up to 40 lbs. (A minimum 4-hour time commitment is required.)”

I don’t know about you, but just reading that I wanna go! Sounds like a win-win for all…Free labor for Wyland, fun-frivolity and community service…And a way for kids to learn art and science while seeing their work literally come to life on canvas…

painting-activistAshley Cecil who paints using art and social media as a platform for her passion at The Painting Activist has a great quote posted that sums this art-science bridge quite well,

“How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong…”

…”The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers.”

– Isaac Asimov, The Roving Mind

I actually stumbled upon Ashley’s artwork online when I bought an original piece of her work for Shaping Youth’s film trailer Body Blitz: Media, Shaping Youth. She truly does “describe the world with a paintbrush” and make change by capturing issues through her own creative lens, often donating a portion of  her profits to organizations aligned with the issue she’s painting.

wcwcLikewise, the new art and science program Wyland Clean Water Challenge, developed by his Foundation, UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Birch Aquarium is taking change even a step further taking activism directly into art and science education.

They’re hoping to reach 57 million students in the U.S. and inspire young people everywhere about marine science and the conservation of water quality…

Wyland’s Mobile Learning Center adds a feasible way to literally roll right into action as an exhibit on wheels..mlc

His nationwide science and art contests with kids even gives him some stiff competition for the next generation of eco-artists. Awe-inspiring.

Mark my words…This is no fluke…Wyland walks the walk and goes far beyond selling whale tchotchkes and pretty pictures.

He’s got a heckuva marketing and media machine deployable as an agent of change that really moves into high gear…(partially bio-diesel to boot) Brilliant. I’m hoping the eco-literacy NCLI Act passes promptly in the Senate, since it made it through the House, as Wyland is primed to incorporate environmental arts and sciences into hands-on education with kids that instills these important messages early and often.

hollywood-061Congratulations to the Wyland Foundation team for innovation…And to the very charming, low key gent himself that we had the honor of sharing our thoughts with over lunch coming out of the Disney Earth premiere…It’s SO refreshing to meet an extraordinarily grounded, personable, creative spirit who does NOT have a whale of an ego trying to make a big splash like so many of my industry brethren.

Wyland darts through the crowds with his piercing blue eyes, and trademark hat and tat which makes him immediately identifiable…

And yet? He seems more interested in contributing to the cause than the commercialism…which is part of his appeal. Check out the video below, you’ll see what I mean…he seems like he’s first and foremost having fun!

He’s either comfortable enough in his own skin to ignore the glare and flash of ‘Hollyweird’ as he calls it, or centered enough in his Laguna/Aliso Viejo environs to overcome the pop culture flesh press knowing he can retreat to the sea.

Either way, he’s one cool character and kindred water spirit that I’m proud to support and applaud. (and no, I’m NOT ever ‘paid to pitch’ as this WSJ article blog story reveals elsewhere; yowza!)

Enjoy the 13th annual Childrens Water Education Festival next week, Wyland…

Know that you’re Shaping Youth through art and media in ways that few others on the planet can! Encore!

Visual Credits: Wyland Long Beach/kids photo by Jeff Gritchen, LB Press-Telegraph, dolphin poster via Honolulu-Advertiser; others as attributed within

Here’s a great little news clip of Wyland prepping to paint the Earth, and jimnista’s Flickr Photostream showing his work in progress!



  1. I wanted to add that as we drove back my daughter got her first glimpse of offshore drilling in Long Beach and Santa Barbara via PCH, route 1, so I wanted to share this recent note from the Ocean Conservancy as well:

    “Ocean Conservancy Urges Caution, Comprehensive Planning for Energy Uses in Outer Continental Shelf at Public Hearing
    Hearing held today to voice concerns about expanding energy demands and drilling in the ocean

    April 16, 2009

    Media Contact: Kelly Ricaurte

    San Francisco, CA Today, a public hearing will be held to discuss the energy uses of the Outer Continental Shelf, including offshore oil drilling. This is the fourth and last hearing in a series across the US. Laura Capps, Ocean Conservancy senior vice president for communications and governmental affairs, will be on hand for the public comments at the hearing. She issued the following statement in advance:

    “Generating energy from the ocean must be done wisely—the ocean is our life support system. Faster, cheaper, safer energy options to solve the oil crisis, cut individual energy bills, and quickly reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil should be used. Oil production in the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf falls short of these better alternatives and not only contributes to the cycle of dependence but also exacerbates global climate disruption by adding more carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. If there is to be new offshore oil drilling at all, it should be done only as a bridge to more sustainable energy production, should be excluded from the most sensitive marine environments, and should be guided by current science. Where adequate scientific data and analysis do not exist, studies must be conducted before leases are issued.

    “Some areas are particularly sensitive and require us to pause in order to make wise decisions. In the Arctic, for example, we do not fully understand impacts of climate change, and impacts are occurring much faster than expected. Currently there is no capacity to handle accidents and oil spills in ice-filled seas, a frequent condition in Arctic waters. We need to take a time out to gather information about the Arctic to make rational, science-based decisions on whether we can move forward with increased industrial uses.

    “We need comprehensive ocean planning—with conservation as a central deciding factor—so that the many competing uses work together in a way that is sustainable for our environment and economy. A wave of demands on the ocean is mounting—wind farms compete with recreation, drilling competes with shipping and so on down the line until the pattern reflects a tangle of uses that are neither economically efficient nor ecologically sustainable. It’s clear that we need order in the ocean just as surely as we need it on land to control urban sprawl.

    “To help fund comprehensive ocean planning and research, among other projects that maintain and restore marine ecosystem health, Ocean Conservancy urges the creation of an ocean investment fund. The fund would set aside a small portion of the revenue generated from ocean uses. It would be vital to support the management and conservation of our dwindling ocean resources,” concluded Ms. Capps.”

  2. Missy Tougas says

    I have been a friend of the environment for quite a while, as a Montessori school teacher, I would have the 3-6 year olds checking the bottoms of containers and rinsing them out for proper disposal, even taking turns bringing them home to recycle.

    My daughter Lilly is very involved as well. during the Clean Water Tour, Wyland came to our school which was located at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce, Fl. We have been fans of Wyland’s and have some of his pieces, so Lilly was extra excited about meeting him for the first time. Days before the event, she was educating her peers about what he does, and sharing things to get them just as excited. Lilly says “the day Wyland came changed my life”. She was only 6 years old at the time, and spent most of the day talking to him about caring for the Earth, and being a fan of his.

    It was so amazing for every child who participated, and just as we said, if you weren’t a fan yet, you were about to be one of his biggest fans, it was so true, he inspired every child that got the opportunity to participate in the Clean Water Challenge, in fact we extended the efforts of awareness by painting a Mural on a school wall for the Challenge. Children from age 18 months old to 12 yrs. painted. They were speaking of Wyland the whole time.

    Since then, Lilly has participated in many things with Wyland including going to China for Hands Across The Ocean. Wyland really inspires the children to get involved, and to take action in a way that I haven’t seen before.

    As one of Wyland’s Youth Ambassadors for the Planet, Lilly does not stop her efforts in this mission. We work very hard in our town to educate the community about green awareness and Clean water.

    The latest mission at the moment is Lilly’s Cupcakes for The Planet…raising money for the Mobil Learning Center to come to our town to further educate the community on this important matter. Wyalnd is truly changing the way children see the future of this planet and it is amazing to be on this journey with him.

  3. Wow, Missy, thank you so much for sharing this firsthand detail of your exposure to his work with kids! My goddaughter is hoping to become an ‘ambassador’ for him in So.Cal, and I’ll forward this to her mom pronto, as it validates my instinct that he indeed is ‘walking the walk.’

    Do you have any more info or visuals on ‘Lilly’s Cupcakes for the Planet?’ as it seems blog-worthy and an interesting grassroots approach…Interested in hearing more about her work, and perhaps having her do a guest post about her peer to peer recruitment of kids for clean water? How old is she now?

    We had some success piloting a ‘peer mentor’ program with 5th graders ‘training’ 4th graders on lunch time recycling and such as part of our ‘planet patrol’ so I’d like to hear more best practices of what’s appealing to kids at the elem, then middle and finally high school levels…Art and media seem to have universal appeal taking shape in many forms so I’m always interested in fresh ways to pay it forward!

    Thanks again for your fantastic comments, and feel free to reach out directly if you have more you’d like to share via email: amy at shaping youth dot org!

    Appreciate it, Missy! 🙂

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Hope is On the Horizon When Movements Go Mainstream

  4. Erlinda Cortez says

    I went to see Wyland had at his rededication of the Long Beach mural. I am a RSP special education teacher in an urban high school. I also happen to be a Sierra Club leader and a volunteer Whale Watch Naturalist with the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium/ACS. I have taken school and agency groups out on whale watch trips and other outdoor outings. Especially on the whale watch outings out of Redondo Beach, I point out his mural and how Wyland is a great messenger to protect our oceans. These groups normally don’t get a chance to spend time in the great outdoors.
    After seeing Wyland, you get a sense of his wonderful spiritual energy he has about mother earth, especially the ocean ecosystem. He is such an earth angel to help save mother earth.
    I did tell him to remember to work with special needs children and he said he would. I also wanted to mention to him that I also hope he works with incarcerated students in the urban setting. These groups have been my favorite when I take them on outdoor sites because they really appreciate it. They are kinesthetic and visual learners! I certain hope this message gets to him to work and/or continue to work these particular groups.

  5. I hate to be the one to burt everyones bubble, but I think its time to let the cat out of the bag because he’s on the verge of bankruptcy. I used to work for the Wyland Foundation and I quit after finding out that Wylands real purpose for having a foundation is to promote his art sales. Have you noticed that he brings an art gallery and sells his art at almost every foundation event? They make you think the money is going to the foundation, but believe me, its not! Sooner or later the IRS is going to shut him down.

  6. Seriously? I’ve not heard of this AT ALL (and I poked around in a lot of places, including sending kids to the events themselves and getting feedback directly from the kids and parents?)

    I need to know about this, if there’s a predominantly commercial side, for that’s contradictory to the POV that’s been presented when I’ve been privy to same. I have some eyes and ears in their regional area, so will ping them pronto and query. Feel free to send any data/schools to interview, etc. my way: “amy at shaping youth dot org” via email, as I don’t want to be inaccurate, yet this is inconsistent with the image/data I’ve been presented. Thanks…

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Interview with Amy Jussel on The Girl Revolution

  7. Amy,
    Having put my blood, sweat and tears into this foundation for nine years, often to the point of complete exhaustion, I will say Dawn, who worked with us for roughly six years ago for about three months, is unequivocally incorrect about the purpose of the foundation. In fact, I believe this is one of the most innovative non-profits in the nation. You’ve seen our work first hand and your assessment of our accomplishments as you’ve stated throughout your blog is correct. I’d be happy to answer any questions you’d like about anything relating the foundation – it’s past, present, and future. The Wyland Foundation is about MANY people working together to teach kids about environmental issues through art and science.

  8. Thanks, Steve, for chiming in, and I’ve already asked several attendees in the area about the commercial side and pretty much come up with the ‘um, well, there was a table there, I guess, but I can’t say it was a big deal’ kind of reply…so I chalked it up to a disgruntled employee…based on the overwhelming positive feedback I’ve received from attendees and parents themselves.

    With all of the recent hoopla of ad creep into schools and such, like with Scholastic for kids, etc. one can’t be too careful, so I appreciate your outreach…Everyone has their own ‘brand tolerance’ level, and I’m eager to keep mine flatline on the school engagement front with a heavy preference toward innovation for education. It appears to me the Wyland Foundation is achieving that. Power to ya…

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Grown Up Digital: Don Tapscott’s Latest On ‘Generation Net’

  9. Joseph Tomarchio says

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    Taught Me 2 Books

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