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Northeastern Children’s Center students dive deep into ocean conservation for new Gallery 360 exhibit

Young artists from the Russell J. Call Children's Center use recycled materials to show how much they have learned about ocean life and the value of conservation. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Without a snorkel in sight, children mingled with floating bioluminescent jellyfish, cresting orca whales, and massive octopi––not at the New England Aquarium, but on Northeastern’s Boston campus.

The group of more than 30 children gathered in Gallery 360 on Wednesday to marvel at the ocean-centric exhibit as part of the annual art show spotlighting work from children at Northeastern’s Russell J. Call Children’s Center. For years, the childcare provider has put on an art show at the gallery, each time with a theme. This year the theme was “oceans,” with a particular emphasis on conservation.

Luke, one of the young artists, wandered past floating jellyfish made out of paper bowls and a large stingray made out of paper-mâché and glue. He stopped at a large sunken ship that he proudly said he had helped construct using cardboard.

“I like it really good! It’s fun!” he exclaimed, before pointing to the holes cut into the side of the ship and claiming he could crawl through them––if his teacher allowed it.

One section of this year's art show from Russell J. Call Children's Center artists is a mural depicting the different layers of ocean life. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

For the teachers and students at the center, the art show is the culmination of their spring semester and months’ worth of work. The exhibit features work from 35 children and is split across three sections: a wall-spanning mosaic depicting ocean life, a darkened room focused on the deep ocean, and a section devoted to conservation and art made of recycled materials.

“Something that we’ve been focusing on a lot this year is working with the kids on being good stewards of the Earth and taking care of each other and being kind,” Lisa Holden, assistant director of the Children’s Center and lead teacher, said.

The art is a combination of sculptures, murals, paintings and self-portraits, playfully displayed under a banner referring to the children as “the conservationists.” Teachers developed the concepts for the art projects based on the children’s interests, but always with the goal of comprehensively covering the topic in a way that is developmentally appropriate for the students. For example, the idea for the deep ocean part of the exhibit came out of the children’s unexpected obsession with angler fish.

The art on display at Gallery 360 ranges from murals to self-portraits. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

After a general overview of ocean life, the curriculum shifted to a focus on conservation, a topic that teachers hoped the children would be able to relate to. Before long, the 2- to 5-year-old artists were demanding that their parents stop giving them fruit pouches with plastic caps.

“I was like, ‘Why?’ And [this student] was like, ‘The plastic! The plastic! It’s going to go in the ocean!’” Grace Jackson, a teacher who previously co-oped at the center before joining full-time, said. “I was like, ‘Actually, we’re saving this plastic for the art show and we’re going to reuse it. We’re going to recycle it.’ He was like, ‘Oh, phew.’”

As the “conservationists” walked into Gallery 360, their eyes went wide, smiles peeking out from behind their masks as they pointed excitedly at the art that they had created out of bottle caps, paper plates, foam noodles, and plastic bottles.

“If we get this in front of them early, that it’s important to conserve the ocean or it’s important to speak up if you see something wrong … then they are very prepared to have more intense and deeper-level conversations further on down the road, if we start it at a basic level now with things that are tangible to them like picking up trash or protecting the fish,” Jackson said.

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