Art for an oil-free coast

Fifty artists will take up paintbrushes and carving tools to portray Canada's fragile "raincoast," the results of which will be published in an art book. Their goal is to bring attention to the dramatic beauty and ecological diversity of B.C.'s central and north coast that will be at risk if tankers are permitted to ship tar sand oil through the region's narrow and dangerous channels.

Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it. — Marshall McLuhan

Fifty artists — some of the country’s most celebrated and many who are First Nations — will take up paintbrushes and carving tools to portray Canada’s fragile “raincoast” — one they feel is threatened by Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and the oil giant’s international partners.

A network of coastal lodges, tour boat operators and businesses have donated or discounted their services so that the artists can explore some of the most spectacular and remote locations of British Columbia’s central and north coast. Over a two-week period in June they will depict the rich biodiversity and integrated, ecological elements of the forest, intertidal, and ocean zones, and the people, flora and fauna that have lived there for thousands of years.

Their goal is to bring attention to the dramatic beauty and ecological diversity of B.C.’s central and north coast that will be at risk if tankers are permitted to ship tar sand oil through the region’s narrow and dangerous channels.

The resulting works, combined with prose and poetry, will be published this fall as an art book titled Canada’s Raincoast at Risk: Art for an Oil-Free Coast, scheduled for publication in the fall of 2012. The original artworks, donated by the artists, will become part of a traveling art show to raise public awareness of what is at stake on this priceless coast and why it needs to be kept oil-free.

The art-for-conservation idea is the recurring brainchild of Tofino artist Mark Hobson, who helped coordinate a similar venture in 1989. That project, in association with the Wilderness Committee, produced the book Carmanah: Artistic Visions of an Ancient Rainforest, which drew international attention to the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island, and led to permanent protection of the area through its designation as a B.C. provincial park.

“Since the call went out to the artist community to participate the response has been overwhelming,” said Hobson. “Many feel as I do, it will only be a matter of time before incidents like the Exxon Valdez and Nestucca oil spills repeat themselves in this incredible coastal ecosystem.”

The Art for an Oil-Free Coast project is being coordinated and supported by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, a non-profit organization that has been using scientific research and public education to further protection of coastal ecosystems and wildlife in British Columbia for more than 15 years.

“We look forward to introducing these wonderful artists to the stunning wild places Northern Gateway puts in jeopardy,” said Brian Falconer, Raincoast’s Director of Marine Operations. Falconer also captains Raincoast’s research vessel, Achiever, which will be one of the boats hosting the artists’ expedition.

The artists are united in the conclusion that an oil spill resulting from the collision or grounding of a supertanker will have an impact whose magnitude will far exceed anything ever experienced on Canada’s shorelines.

Among the artists joining the project are Robert BatemanRobert Davidson, Carol Evans, Roy Henry Vickers, Craig Benson, Michael Svob, Alison Watt and Mae Moore. Contributing authors to the book’s text include award winning journalists Andrew Nikiforuk and Briony Penn, and Heiltsuk Tribal Councillor, poet and writer Jessie Housty.

States Roy Henry Vickers, “I come to only one conclusion, I would rather be a spirit than a human who allowed this to happen.”

A version of this article was previously published at The Huffington Post on June 5, 2012.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.