VERNON - Hundreds of plastic buoys cleaned up from ocean waters and shorelines are finding new life in Vernon as colourful, whimsical, comical and political works of community art.
Vernon artist and muralist Michelle Loughery gets the buoys — some of which are as small as an apple, others as big as a car — from Chloé Dubois, executive director and co-founder of The Ocean Legacy Foundation.
The buoys — along with enormous amounts of shoes, styrofoam, rope, tires, netting and other debris — are collected in ocean and shoreline clean-ups in B.C. and beyond.
Loughery recalls the day a huge semi truck arrived and dumped hundreds of the buoys in her front yard. She was thrilled; her husband, not so much, Loughery says with a laugh.
“I never knew there were so many rogue buoys,” Loughery says. “I have now learned there’s thousands of these floating around in the ocean that are now considered garbage. And they’re fantastic.”
Loughery has transformed them into everything from growling bulldogs to zany faces, and she’s involving students, elders, immigrants and other community members in the process too.
It’s all come together as the Canada 150 Diversity Mural Bead Community Engagement Public Art Installation, which will be unveiled June 27 in the Civic Plaza, outside the Greater Vernon Museum.
“Diversity comes in nature and in your thoughts, and what you believe in. Not just your nationality. Diversity is what you do and who you are,” Loughery says.
The buoys, many of which washed up in the 2011 tsunami, come in all different shapes and sizes. They each have number, and some have names and dates carved into them.
“People write their names, carve (on them) on the ships. We’ve found some of the most beautiful words on them,” she says.
Words such as ‘life, love and water’ and ‘trials and tribulations’ have shown up on the buoys.
“These buoys, like we have, and like immigrants do, have travelled the world and they’ve ended up on our shore,” Loughery says.
The project is one of several ways Dubois’ organization is re-purposing ocean debris. One initiative involves converting the plastics into crude oil, while another is creating sustainable packaging for the cosmetics company Lush.
Dubois and her team respond to hotspots reported by locals and spend hours collecting the garbage by hand. The buoys, which are bulky and awkward, are particularly tough to collect.
“It’s heartwarming to see (the diversity art project) because it’s so much work to collect the buoys specifically,” Dubois says.
She’s happy to see the buoys not only out of the ocean and the dump, but also finding value in the community.
“We’re able to give these buoys new life,” she says.
The buoys will be unveiled Tuesday, June 27, at a multicultural block party in Civic Plaza from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. On the day of the installation, all painters will be engaged in adding their painted buoys to the connected piece.
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