Art Works Blog

Spotlight on Washed Ashore

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This phrase has been associated with the push for environmental responsibility for nearly half a century. Today, there are many organizations that advocate for a number of environmental concerns, including the issue of pollution in the world’s oceans. One of the organizations that brings awareness to and helps to fix this problem is Washed Ashore.

Washed Ashore is an arts advocacy organization founded in 2010 by Angela Pozzi. Born into a family that was immersed in the arts, Pozzi developed a passion for the arts and arts education at a very young age. Pozzi began her professional career in the arts as an arts educator. That focus evolved when she realized her favorite childhood beach in Bandon, Oregon, had become inundated with plastic debris. She decided that she would not buy any more art supplies, and instead, use the debris from the beach to create works that would call attention to the ocean pollution issue and the effect that it has on sea animals. This change in her art practice grew into Washed Ashore, and today the organization has created several massive sea animal sculptures, enlisted thousands of volunteers from all of the world, and traveled its exhibition to more than 20 different arts and other organizations. Pozzi’s use of art as a tool for communication--and as a vehicle for change--has helped spread her message of protecting the world’s oceans, all while continuing to contribute to the survival of the arts.

NEA: What gave you the idea for this type of arts advocacy organization? How did you decide to blend this passion for art and for conserving the environment into creating Washed Ashore?

ANGELA POZZI: I met my first husband, Craig, in Utah. We were married for 25 years, then he became very ill, and had a brain tumor that went undiagnosed for eight years. then he had a massive stroke and then he died…. I actually sued the health insurance company for medical negligence, and I won. I was given this chunk of money, and I decided, "I have to do something that is worth two lives or more. And I have to make a difference in the world. And I have to make a huge impact with this." I was walking the beaches, trying to just heal, and I saw an ocean that needed healing. I saw all this plastic on the beach and I thought, "What in the world is happening to this sacred place I love?"  And I thought, "Well, I know about teaching, I know about making community art. And I know about working with recycled materials. What if I never buy anymore art supplies of any kind, except wire, and try to just use what's on the beach to educate people about what's happening? What if I could get everyone involved?" So I just decided that's what I was going to do. I put all my money into buying property and buying supplies and supporting myself while I taught and hired people to help me and I got it started. 

I decided that I really wanted to model [this project] after those blockbuster touring exhibits. I thought, "I need to reach the people that don't go to art museums. I need to reach the common everyday folks. I need to do great big animals that are going to be out in public and everyone wants their picture taken next to it. And that will grab people's attention and I can teach them about this problem and how to make a difference." That was my goal from the beginning: to use Facebook  with all those posts and to get [the project] on social media and to get people to talk about it. I needed to have the work be interactive. So, you can walk through things, you can touch things, you can make music with them. They're all interactive. And that way, it can't be ignored. I thought, "If I do something abstract it won't reach the people that need to know about it. I need to do something that's very basic. And [making sculptures of] the animals that are suffering from plastic pollution will give it another layer, and that's what we want to teach them about"

NEA: How has your community supported you in growing the organization and expanding your mission?

POZZI: The community loved it. I mean they loved the fact that they were cleaning up the beaches, and then that they were all being part of something bigger than themselves. It was amazing.  We built thirteen sculptures in six months. And now we've logged over 10,000 volunteers in six and a half years. People come and make little parts of the sculptures and then they leave them behind, knowing that their part is going to become something bigger, and then it’s going to tour around the country. It's a very inclusive thing, and very empowering. It's one of the things I'm most proud of, it's really community-based art.

NEA: What message do you hope that your community, the audience that sees your traveling exhibits, and others are receiving from your works?

POZZI: I see, and have heard from people that [their first thought is, "Oh my gosh, what can I do to help stop this? I can't believe all this was on the beach. What's happening to our oceans? And what can I do?" If people see it, they believe it. And then it makes them want to know more.

I'm reaching new audiences. Bringing the arts into new venues is one thing that the art world has got to do if we're going to ever have people fund us to continue. I'm waking up a population that has not really seen the arts as a language and as a tool and as a powerful message giver. I think that that's essential, that we get out and not just be an elitist group of people. We have to really reach to the general population in any way we can. 

NEA: What’s your ultimate vision for Washed Ashore?

POZZI: When I first started this project, I thought, "I want to save the ocean. The ocean is connected to everywhere in the world. I need to be able to set up satellite projects around the world and around the country to start with, where I actually train people to do what I'm doing. And work with other artists, and work with other communities to set up the same thing." When we went to the Our Oceans conference, we actually presented that concept to various people who were very excited about it. We're working toward that. I'd like it to be an epidemic art exhibit so people see it and they're like, "Whoa, I want to do that!" And then they start something, and then they get it going, and then they tour exhibits, and their things start something. We get more art and less garbage. We just have to find a way to make that happen. 

I love what I do. I work very hard. If it wasn't rewarding, I wouldn't be doing it. If it wasn't making a difference, I wouldn't be doing it. But I love it with a passion, and I care deeply about making a difference and we're doing okay. We've grown so fast that people were kind of like, "Well, they're going to crash." But no, we just keep growing and growing and growing.

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