Look at the World Through Art, and Sea Change

Editor's note: Sophie J. Nelson is a 7th grader at Turning Point School in Culver City, Calif. She submitted an idea to the annual Algalita POPS International Youth Summit, recently held at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, to create a work of art called "Sea Change.". 


By Sophie J. Nelson

I believe that art can contribute to positive change. People can be given facts that inform them, but when you experience art, it involves all of your senses. Art can trigger powerful emotions that inspire people to take action.

This installation is made out of found and recycled plastic waste and aims to emotionally connect you to the ocean; to raise awareness about plastic pollution, and provide information about how we can make a difference through our daily decisions.

I came up with the idea of this art installation when my science teacher, Mr. Kline, told our class about the Algalita POPS International Youth Summit, where students age 11-18 could submit their ideas about how they would stop plastic pollution in the ocean. I take inspiration from two past experiences. For a project in 5th grade, I interviewed Marina Debris, an artist who creates fashion from trash collected on the beach to raise awareness about pollution. In 6th grade, I took an elective class with art teacher, Ms. Purvey, where we created an emotional art installation about self-identity.

Using these earlier projects as a starting point, I shared my idea with Mr. Kline and Ms. Purvey and they encouraged me to submit it to Algalita. Additionally, Ms. Purvey invited my installation to become the focus of our second trimester art class here at Turning Point School. My idea was accepted by the POPS summit!  

On February 28, I participated in the Algalita Marine Research and Education’s three-day, annual POPS International Youth Summit at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, Calif. POPS is the acronym for “plastic ocean pollution solutions,” during which 100 of the brightest young minds from around the world gathered to tackle ocean plastic pollution.

Taking what I learned from the summit, and with renewed enthusiasm, we continued work on the installation at school after the summit was over.

Students signed up for this art elective project (the full team consisted of 18 students, two teachers, two visiting artists and parent and teacher volunteers), and we worked as a collaborative team to make the "Sea Change" project a reality. A Playa Del Rey beach clean-up was organized as well as a massive collection of recyclable and reusable items to collect trash to be used in the installation.

Over the course of three months, we transformed an empty classroom into an abstract environment to give people who entered the sensation that they were in the ocean. Some students worked on creating jellyfish out of plastic tray covers, other students strung plastic bottles and packaging together into long strands. Some painted coral, while others worked on videos for projection, and sound effects. The flow of the installation invited people to move through the space, from a beautiful clean ocean into a chaotic, polluted one. We even built a representation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which consisted of a spinning frame constructed by Leif Maginnis, one of the visiting artists who works with kinetic sculpture.

During the week of March 21, Sea Change was presented by Turning Point School for the STEAM Expo at its Festival of the Arts.

In the end, we offered viewers suggestions of things they could do to reduce plastic waste in their communities and in their own lives. Our team conducted research on organizations that focus on reducing plastic waste, to help empower people in their own lives. For example, taking reusable bags when shopping, or asking for no straws when you buy a drink. Our research helped illustrate how much plastic is in the ocean now, and what will happen if we don’t take action ourselves.

The installation let people know that even though we humans contribute to this problem, we can change our habits and become part of the solution. From kindergarteners to grandparents, people were moved by the experience. I learned a lot about collaboration, working as an artist, and using art as a tool of communication. I was thrilled to see people emotionally affected by experiencing the installation.

Sea Change Purveyors 

Teachers: Faith Purvey, Art; Matt Kline, Environmental Studies; Travis Reynolds, SmartLab | Guest Engineers: Anthony Okopnik, sound; Leif Maginnis, gyre | Students (Art + SmartLab): Aden Juda, Andrew Herrera, Arya Jandaghi, Audrey Couch, Chandler Herring, Emma Schwettmann, Gabriel Ziering, Jack Messer, Jaden Lipe, Landon Barker, Lucan O'Neal  (POPS Youth Summit Team), Mason Letteau-Stallings (POPS Youth Summit Team), Ryan Cobb Phillips, Sasha Kiselev, Skyler Herron, Sofia Friend (POPS Youth Summit Team), Sophie Nelson (POPS Youth Summit Team), Will Harris


Sea Change will remain on view through April 15, 2016, at Turning Point School,  8780 National Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232. For more info: DA.Nelson@mac.com