Artist Andy Rosen, whose work explores the conflict and boundaries between the natural world and human activity, will help build a right whale as part of the Gulf of Maine Ecoarts. Here he works on “Unpack,” which he installed on the Portland waterfront. Courtesy of Gulf of Maine Ecoarts

Two years ago, the artist Anna Dibble helped create and paint a 7-foot-long Atlantic Cod from paper mache. She joined members of the climate justice group 350Maine as they gave the fish a funeral march through Portland’s Old Port, accompanied by a New Orleans-style jazz band. There were eulogies and songs on the steps of City Hall for the old cod, all designed to call attention to the growing toll of climate change in the Gulf of Maine.

Waynflete School teachers Leslie Murray (art) and Katrina St John (science) work with students to create a lobster and jellyfish for the Gulf of Maine Ecoarts project. Photo by Anna Dibble

The experience sparked an idea that has evolved into a full-fledged collaboration with Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in East Boothbay, as well as dozens of teachers and artists across Maine and hundreds of students.

The project, Gulf of Maine Ecoarts, will involve a large-scale sculptural installation of a North Atlantic right whale and other endangered and threatened marine species to hang at Bigelow in 2021. The goal is to help people connect with the Gulf of Maine to promote stewardship of the sea and to help connect humans with each other, said Dibble.

The sculpture will be made with 95 percent beach debris and recycled, repurposed materials.

Dibble noted that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than nearly every other body of water worldwide.

“The idea is to build hope and to connect people with each other and the environment,” said the artist, who lives in Freeport.

It almost goes without saying, but the pandemic scrubbed many of her plans. She had a big performance and art installation planned for Cove Street Arts in Portland in April to promote the project. That didn’t happen. The school workshops were canceled. Fundraising, while continuing, is a challenge.

Still, she moves forward. The installation is still slated for 2021, marine animals continue to be designed and built by the artists, and the students will pick up where they left off when they come back to school. But for now, the project’s public face lives online on Gulf of Maine Ecoarts’ Facebook page and YouTube channel. Dibble is making weekly profiles for an online video series called “The Bigelow Project: Moving Forward.”

Anna Dibble’s leatherback sea turtle, made from cardboard, a dog food bag and beach plastic. Photo by Anna Dibble

Each video introduces a member of the collaborative team of teachers, artists, scientists, donors and others. Many aspects that would have been part of the Portland opening, including poetry readings and dance performances, will be turned into videos for the series, Dibble said. She plans to post a video every Wednesday for the next year or more.

“This program, like the project itself, is a collaborative one that is turning into something deeper and more unusual than when it started,” she said.

Freeport poet Jefferson Navicky recited two of his “clifi” poems on a recent video post. “Clifi” is a style of writing that blends science fiction and climate change. Portland artist Pamela Moulton talked about her creative process as an artist and educator and shared her ideas for using recycled lobster rope in the Bigelow project. Brunswick High art teacher Brad Williams showed a slideshow from the spring semester’s construction of large-scale marine animals, highlighting the use of recycled material. Another video shows students from Medomak Valley High School salvaging materials on a field trip to the beach.

Dibble also is working to offer schools an online teaching package this fall, to assist educators with online projects by delivering one that is local and that they don’t have to develop themselves, she said. That also will help Gulf of Maine Ecoarts continue its outreach.

So far, the schools working on the project are Friends School of Portland, Breakwater, Waynflete, Mount Ararat High School, South Portland High School, Deering High School, Bates College, Medomak Valley High School, Brunswick High School, University of Southern Maine, Bates College, Maine College of Art and the Chewonki Foundation. In addition to Dibble, the artists are Andy Rosen, Wilder Nicholson, Christopher Patch, Pamela Moulton, Joe Hemes, Mac Christopher and Will Hallett.

Dibble’s advisory team includes the artists Alice Spencer, Lin Lisberger, Margaret Morfit, Marty Pottenger and Christopher Sullivan. MECA grad and Bigelow employee Carter Shappy will serve as art preparator during the installation.

Being flexible serves artists well. Flexibility will be key with this project, Dibble said.

“Because a major part of my vision for the project is to allow it to evolve as an intuitive work of art itself, I’m confident we will be able to adapt to the current crisis situation in the upcoming months,” Dibble said. “Artists are used to things going wrong, roadblocks, technical or aesthetic problems, and also used to being highly flexible – picking ourselves up, making needed adjustments, improvising, and moving forward as we navigate the unknown waters ahead.”

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