With a mission to promote, protect and preserve the world’s oceans, waterways and marine life, artist Wyland founded Rancho Santa Margarita-based Wyland Foundation in 1993. Steve Creech, president of Wyland Foundation, discusses the nonprofit’s new interactive theater experience to teach kids about the responsibility we all have in protecting our environment and how readers can take action today. “Your support helps the foundation continue Wyland’s dream of inspiring, informing and encouraging people to work together to sustain and improve the state of our ocean and waterways for all of us now and for future generations.”
What is the mission of Wyland Foundation? The Wyland Foundation is truly unique in the world of environmental engagement. Our inspiration-first philosophy is aimed at connecting people to the marine resources that not only support our existence, but also provide joy and happiness for millions of people. Everything we do is aimed at inspiring, informing and encouraging actions, big and small, that can sustain the health of our oceans and waterways, whether it’s our innovative traveling water science exhibits, marine life-based art programs or our innovative community-based water conservation programs. Recently, the foundation designed, produced and implemented an array of enhancements to its outreach programs, including a new exhibit module within its traveling clean water mobile learning center to address the impacts of eutrophication on coastal water systems. This type of pollution is one of the largest problems affecting the nation’s coasts.
What prompted the start of the nonprofit? Nearly 40 years ago, marine life artist Wyland left art school in Michigan with a singular dream: to use inspiring imagery and art to connect people to our ocean, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. With habitats disappearing, pollution mounting and marine species dying, he launched one of the world’s largest arts in public places projects – a series of monumental marine life murals on the sides of skyscrapers, sports arenas and urban buildings. Wyland thought if people could appreciate the beauty of our marine ecosystems, maybe they would be more willing to protect them. In 1993, he founded the Wyland Foundation to inspire millions of people to become more positive, solution-oriented stewards of our global marine resources through an amazing range or local, regional and national outreach programs.
What is the greatest reward in being involved with the nonprofit? I can only speak for our organization, but one of our strengths is our dream to action approach. The Wyland Foundation has always been an extremely agile organization, so we’ve been able to take on big projects, from a mile-long art installation dedicated the world’s water systems at the U.S. National Mall to bringing together over 1,000 mayors and getting them to raise the visibility on water conservation and pollution in our nation’s cities. We’ve done a great job at building connections between what people do on a grassroots level and the impact those small actions have at a larger, national level. We believe a future of clean water and healthy oceans is within our grasp, but only if we can connect with people in a meaningful way to become more positive, solution-oriented stewards of these precious global resources. The Wyland Foundation’s mix of conservation-themed art initiatives, traveling science exhibitions and grassroots community engagement are working to instill these qualities in our children, our families and communities to give them the tools they need to ensure clean water and healthy oceans for years to come.
What is the biggest challenge the nonprofit faces? Has the pandemic affected the needs of Wyland Foundation? When we started lockdowns, it was hard to see what that would mean to all of us and how the Wyland Foundation would operate during stay-at-home orders. We actually found new ways to use some of our resources to assist our local communities. For instance, we repurposed our clean water mobile learning center to haul food for Second Harvest Food Bank. We also improved the delivery of our virtual classroom tools. But we didn’t want to take our eye off what was most important to us. The recent oil spill off Huntington Beach reminded us of the responsibility we all have to protect our environment. So, now coming out of the pandemic, we are doubly committed to bringing our message to students who may lack the resources for science field trips; we’re in the middle of a water-wise park makeover project for the city of Westminster, and we are installing an amazing 180-degree interactive theater experience within our clean water mobile learning center. The idea is similar to the space explorer from the Nat Geo series, “Cosmos,” with Neil deGrasse Tyson. We are reimagining the theater as an all-terrain space and underwater exploration vessel. It’s the kind of project that kids will remember for the rest of their lives.
What are your goals for the coming year? We are expanding our national network of clubs and volunteers and giving them some amazing tools that they can use to improve the health of their local waterways. At the end of the day, we all have a role to play. We’re just showing folks that there are many ways, big and small, to make a difference.
How can readers learn more? People can check in with Wyland and the foundation at our website at www.wylandfoundation.org. We highly encourage you to become a member. It’s a great way to support our work, but there are lots of benefits to them as well.