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Oct 10, 2017 10:23 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Pairing Art With Science, For The Good Of The Environment

The finished product. VALERIE GORDON
Oct 10, 2017 11:23 AM

Carolyn Munaco stood before a group of fellow novice artists inside the Southampton Arts Center, paintbrush in hand. With soft, gentle strokes, she applied a thin mixture of black and blue paint onto a blank canvas. The colors represented the Shinnecock shoreline, and they separated the red-and-yellow-streaked sunset sky above from the bluish-gray water reflecting the sunset in bursts of yellow below.The Hampton Bays artist provided instruction at what seemed like a typical paint night—except it wasn’t.

Ms. Munaco paired her artistic talent last Thursday, October 5, with another cause dear to her heart: the preservation and health of the bays in her hometown. At the recent paint night, dubbed “Brush Strokes for the Bays,” town residents received both an artistic and scientific education.

“There are snacks, paintbrushes, canvases and, of course, wine,”—all provided for a fee of $40—“but it’s different in that guests, while having a fun night out with friends, will learn something about the local marine environment,” said Ms. Munaco, who works in cooperation with Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Program.

“People want to get involved, but they don’t know how,” said Darci Bielenda, senior administrator assistant at Cornell’s Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center in Southold.

“It helps you learn in a more interesting way,” added Kimberley Barbour, the marine program outreach manager for Cornell.

In each class, Ms. Munaco teaches guests step by step how to paint a marine animal or habitat that ties in with the night’s topic. Previous topics have included paintings of harbor seals, scallops, dune habitats, and various shellfish species.

The creations completed last week were acrylic paintings of the newly restored Shinnecock shoreline. The area sustained severe erosion from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and, roughly 18 months later, the Shinnecock Indian Nation secured a $3.75 million grant administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to return it to its former glory.

“Its phenomenal,” said Heather Rogers, project director of the Shinnecock Coastal Habitat Restoration project. “Even as a child I can’t remember the shoreline as beautiful as it is now.”

The restoration project was a collaborative effort between Cornell and the Shinnecock Indian Nation. The work, which is expected to wrap up early next spring, dumped approximately 100,000 cubic yards of sand onto the shoreline, and also included the planting of beach grass and plants that thrive in salt marshes, Ms. Rogers explained.

“The shoreline and its natural habitats had essentially been destroyed by the storm, and a lot of land, which borders the shoreline, was under water,” recalled Terrell Terry, the general council secretary for the Tribal Trustees and chairman of the Nation’s Natural Resources Committee.

The restoration allows important species of fish and wildlife to return to the eastern shore of Shinnecock Bay, explained Christopher Pickerell, Cornell’s marine project coordinator. He noted that the creation of small reefs made from shells, stones and concrete has helped replenish the oyster population and mitigate the impact of waves on the shoreline. “We’re really pleased with how everything is going,” Ms. Barbour said.

The motivation behind last week’s event was to celebrate the nearly complete restoration of the Shinnecock shoreline and promote awareness of issues facing local bays. “You’re doing an art project, but you’re learning a lot,” Ms. Barbour said.

“If we can get even one person interested in what we’re doing, it’s worth it,” Ms. Munaco added.

Sequoyah Diaz, Ms. Rogers’s daughter, participated in the recent paint night and spoke about the impact it had on her. “People learn different ways,” she said. “When you see things and you use your hands, you’re actually bringing it to life.”

Brush Strokes for the Bays is an example of Cornell’s commitment to stirring interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, typically referred to as STEM. Ms. Barbour said that by integrating the arts into those fields, “you can reach entirely different audiences.”

“We need more people going into these fields,” she added. “Integrating the art aspect makes it a little more interesting and a little less intimidating. You can get people to think a little bit differently.”

Officials with both Cornell and the Shinnecock Indian Nation point out that their relationship is continuing to blossom, explaining that they are now working together on a documentary that, when finished, will show the “nitty-gritty” of what went into the restoration project as well as the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.

“I’m proud to be a part of it,” Ms. Barbour said of the ongoing film project. “We’ve been doing a lot of outreach events to get the community aware of this great project.”

She added that several painting events have even taken place on the shoreline itself.

“The class is a great opportunity for anyone,” Ms. Munaco said. “Regardless of your skill level, every painter leaves with their very own painting as well as pertinent knowledge about their environment.”

Ms. Bielenda noted that the classes provide opportunity for those who are uncertain of how they can help make a difference, while also educating them about the environment that surrounds them.

“I look forward to one day being able to say to my grandchildren, ‘This is what it looked like then and this is what it looks like now.’” Ms. Rogers said.

Brush Strokes for the Bays painting classes are offered the first Thursday of every month at the Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton Village, and start at 6 p.m. Classes cost $40 per person and the fee includes all necessary painting materials as well as snacks. Those interested in participating are asked to pre-register online at southamptonartscenter.org.

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