Beach volunteers look for art elements — and messages from the Gulf
Among the 157 people armed with trash bags and gloves, someone was bound to find a message from the Gulf of Mexico Saturday morning at Clam Pass beach.
They weren't, however, going to find lots of trash. County crews had been through on their regular sweep and the beach litter hunters had to look carefully to find items.
At this particular cleanup, however, some of the volunteers for Keep Collier Beautiful had been tasked with seeing trash as more than garbage bag fodder. Artis—Naples partnered with Keep Collier Beautiful, and its volunteers were not only cleaning up the beach, but potentially discovering art materials for the museum.
Artist Pam Longobardi, whose "Ocean Gleanings" exhibition is coming to The Baker Museum Dec. 18, (see information box for details) had joined the group. She was asking volunteers who signed up through Artis—Naples to see the ocean's refuse in its environment, taking photos of unusual positioning before they picked it up.
She also suggested they note how it had been altered: rubbed by barnacles, patterned by stains of creatures that had rested on it, tasted by curious sea life.
"I've seen a lot of shark bites on items," she told a queue of volunteers gathered around her at about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 18.
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Oceans send messages not in a bottle
Longobardi says she feels the oceans send its own messages to the humanity that impacts it so drastically. She's found a juxtaposition of print scraps that make sense when paired. A plastic soldier and a camel toy found in close proximity on a beach during Operation Desert Storm made her wonder, she said: Does the deep tell us it is aware of our history?
"It's something I like to do when there's a group that has the bandwidth to put it together," said Longobardi, of the targeted cleanup. She has been encouraging such events around her shows for around 15 years. Longobardi finds her materials she uses in her artwork in ocean debris, and said community involvement in helping her find it is good for both her and them.
"I find that if I'm out there, with my sleeves rolled up and tromping around with everybody, it breaks down a little mystique that artists are different from other people," she said.
If she was hoping to enlighten people to the more earthy side of creating art, Keep Collier Beautiful was hoping to reinvigorate its volunteer base. This is the first cleanup since COVID-19 canceled its beach cleanups for an entire year in 2020.
Board member Cyndee Woolley said the group was excited to have 600 people pre-registered for this one.
"It builds. We get additional people onsite," she said. "People see other people picking up and say, 'Oh, well, why don't I help?'"
The group was working on 12 beaches Saturday morning, in support of International Coastal Cleanup Day. But it would have to pass on two Marco Island beaches and one Everglades area cleanup until it finds people willing to serve as captains for those.
If past cleanups are a benchmark, some 7 to 10 tons of trash will come out of this, she said.
Beach detritus an ongoing goal
After a half hour of cleanup, it didn't look as if Clam Pass would be a big contributor to that volume. Volunteers collecting for the Baker Museum project were getting some small successes.
"We've got treasure!" joked Susanna Hallinan, who pulled out a curry-toned rod of plastic, around four inches long, with a hook at one end reminiscent of a spear. She had come with her daughter, Lisa, a freshman at FSW and member of the Naples Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.
"I'm just the support system," she insisted.
Hardly, Lisa Hallinan said: "She found everything we've got."
Ann Dasilva and Ed Sylvia were the only ones carrying a full bag.
"We found it near the trash can. Everyone misses the trash can," Sylvia said.
Those who couldn't come today will have another chance. Museum Director and Chief Curator Courtney McNeil, who was fielding her own sub-teams of searchers — her three sons — said the museum will accept found beach debris on two community event dates, Oct. 27 and Nov. 13. (See the accompanying box for more information.)
There are three potential endpoints for the collections Saturday, McNeil said: The art installation and a photo exhibition from the beach volunteers are two.
"If we find enough of a critical mass of objects she also could do a display in the museum that's basically a vitrine, a bonnet hood stacked in layers, by color, by type," she said. "It's almost a geological study of what these plastics are, and when you see them all in a 2-by2-foot cube, it really hits home what we're doing to our planet."
Even before the cleanup started, Longobardi may have received her message from nature. At 7:45 a.m., a lush rainbow stretched briefly over the beach.
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
What: Atlanta-based Artist Pam Longobardi utilizes found ocean plastics as her primary source material, arranging hundreds of plastic pieces into meticulous wall-mounted artworks or turning them into monumental floor-based sculptures.
Where: Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples
When: Dec. 18-July 25
Something else: The museum is accepting beach debris at its Art After Hours event Oct. 27 and at its first Community Day of the season, Nov. 13. Also, there is an artist's talk at 2 p.m. Jan. 27.
Information and hours:artisnaples.org or 239-597-1900
You can help
For more information: Learn about Keep Collier Beautiful programs at keepcollierbeautiful.com