“Fragile” is a painting by 17-year-old Ellen Chen, one of six works featured at the Portland Museum of Art. The artwork of six youth artists is the winners of PMA’s Tidal Shift Award contest about climate change. Provided photo by  Portland Museum of Art

A new, unique art exhibit opened Sunday at the Portland Museum of Art.

The exhibit features art created by six young artists who, out of more than 500 entries, were selected as the winners of this year’s Tidal Shift Award. On Saturday, three winners from each age category were honored.

Now in its second year, the Tidal Shift Award contest invites youths, ages 14-22, to submit environmental art about climate change. The goal is to showcase, amplify and provide youth perspectives about environmental solutions and perils – from wildfires to floods to savage storms – that humans, animals and natural resources now face.

Jada Lewis, 18, and Dominick Scuderi, 17, of Dover-Foxcroft, look at the work of youth artists who won the Tidal Shift Award, a prize for art related to climate change, at the Portland Museum of Art on Sunday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

“At the Portland Museum of Art, we believe that art has the power to change lives and is a transformative medium,” said Graeme Kennedy, public relations director for the museum. Art can be an excellent way to deliver explanations, especially about ideas that can be hard to understand like social justice and power dynamics, he said. “Art can really cut through and distill these ideas and move people in powerful and emotional ways.”

When viewing the art, Kennedy said it’s heartening to see how tuned in young artists are about the environment. “I’m 40-something,” he said, adding there’s much to do to help the environment. “My generation is very much in it,” he said, but younger generations will have to deal with more of the mess created by older generations.

Sustainability is the core of the museum’s mission, Kennedy said.


Last year, the contest was offered to artists from New England, which attracted 80 entries. This year, the contest was opened to young artists across the Northeast, with entries from Washington, D.C., to Washington County, Maine. “This year, we had over 500 entries – a monumental increase in participation,” Kennedy said.

The entries – which are all kinds of mediums including paintings, illustrations, sculpture, music, film and videos – were judged by experts in art, science, education and the environment.

Kennedy said that art is inspirational and delivers warnings and solutions, Kennedy said.

“It’s remarkable to see all the different ways that our young people are incredibly talented,” he said. The future is in good hands with the young, he added. “We just have to listen.”


Yana Herzog of Wakefield, Massachusetts, is pictured in her art, “Wild Reflections” about wildfires caused by climate change. Her art is one of the six winning works in the “Tidal Shift Award” contest now displayed at the Portland Museum of Art. The contest is for young artists to showcase their climate change messages. Provided photo from Portland Museum of Art

The winners in the 14-18 category are Ellen Chen of Rye, New York, whose painting is titled “Fragile”; Hailey Talbert of Falmouth for the oil painting “Precipice”; and Minka Holtrop of Freeport for the pen on printmaking paper drawing, “Kingdom Animalia.”


In the age 19-22 category, the winners are Leyla Mandel of Watertown, Massachusetts, for “Synthetic Landscapes”; Abigail Dixson-Boles of Montgomery Center, Vermont, for a video and music titled “Run North”; and Yana Herzog of Wakefield, Massaschusetts, for a photography work, “Wild Reflections.”

Herzog, 19, said her art focused on the threat of wildfires. To create her work, she shot photos of old, beautiful, tall trees, then placed the photos on a mirror and created a look that the trees were being destroyed by fire. Wildfires, which have destroyed trees and homes in California, hit home for her, Herzog said. Last summer during a drought, a wildfire burned for three days at Breakheart Reservation, a public recreation area of 652 acres in Saugus and Wakefield, Massachusetts. The popular park with hiking trails is in Herzog’s hometown.

She hopes her art inspires more people to realize “that something needs to change,” and that carbon footprints need to be reduced. She sees how too many people don’t take care. “I see people littering, throwing trash around” all the time, Herzog said. “It really harms so many plants and animals,” she said. “It hurts me.”

Ellen Chen, 17, said her painting “Fragile,” is about how flooding caused by climate change is “something that’s active and present” and is hurting people.

Chen’s painting shows a demolished home in a flooded village and a 14-year-old girl surrounded by water up to her neck. “She is holding a soggy, cardboard box with two pigs.” In the background, there’s a broken-down house and a sad, dying tree.

The planet is fragile, Chen said. Human-made disasters are affecting villages that cannot get help, while “far away in distant cities we go about our daily lives, unaware of how our lifestyle practices affect others around the planet,” Chen wrote of her art.

“The climate crisis cannot be ignored,” she said. “We should actively look at ways to mitigate it.”

The Tidal Shift Award art exhibit continues through June.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.