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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Kirkland, Washington, USA

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Kirkland, Washington, USA
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Registered: December 2022
City/Town/Province: Kirkland
Posts: 1
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My name is Austin and I'm a 17-year-old artist. As an artist, I'm keenly aware that far too many communities suffer from a lack of vibrancy. Greater Seattle's Juanita neighborhood (in Kirkland, WA) where I live is one of those neighborhoods; we have a lot of blank, plain and dull walls.

As I pondered what to paint, it did not take me long to find the purpose. Juanita Creek is less than one mile from my house. Local salmon populations in Lake Washington streams have dwindled over decades, and many salmon species have become locally extinct or endangered. Juanita Creek is one of the streams that has suffered the most - with only three salmon sighted in 2020. This decline is largely due to apathy, negligence, and pollution. WE - as the Juanita community - had carelessly let the salmon in our neighborhood creek slip near extinction. A key missing link was a lack of awareness and community engagement.

As an artist, I realized that art - when combined with a community-focused purpose - could have a much larger impact and inspire others to make a difference. My simple idea to create a colorful mural for my neighborhood soon grew into a big idea: to use my love of art to inspire my community to get excited and involved with salmon restoration efforts. At that moment I decided to shift from being a community service participant to becoming a community service leader - and I founded the Save Our Salmon (SOS) Through Art Initiative.

My first Save Our Salmon Mural all started in October 2021. I located a 112-foot blank, white, and boring wall along Juanita Creek and set my sights on painting an educational and interactive mural that engaged community members in salmon restoration in Juanita Creek.

SOS combined multiple issues I saw in my community; it combined art, activism, and stewardship all in one project. I sought out perspectives from artists, biologists, researchers, activists, and community members. I partnered with University of Washington's North Lake Washington SalmonWatchers program - to help incorporate an educational component in the mural. I spoke at local neighborhood groups and board meetings to rally support. In total, I've brought together 46 community groups to create the SOS Mural. After six months of planning, fundraising, & designing until I hosted my Community Paint Day in April 2022.

Community Paint Days: A key goal was to not just create a vibrant mural - but engage community members. I developed a unique "Community Paint Day" platform to bring the Juanita neighborhood together for the SOS cause. The Community Paint Day invited community members to join the conversation how they could become active participants in restoring our neighborhood stream.

To make it easy and fun, I first outlined and color-coded my salmon-themed design onto the wall before the Community Paint Day. This format allowed 170+ volunteers ages 4 to 74 to "paint-by-number" the 112-foot blank wall - transforming it into vibrant public art. The Community Paint Day also included an educational aspect where individuals learned how to become better stewards of their stream - over 400 total attendees visisted our Community Paint Day to learn about Juanita Creek. Many of these community members signed up to become Salmon Watchers and ambassadors of the stream for ongoing restoration. The mural itself is a community landmark reminding the importance of caring for Juanita Creek.

Expanding the SOS Initiative: The success of that first Juanita Creek SOS Mural inspired me to expand my work into the SOS Through Art Initiative. In September, I led a second (even bigger!) 188-foot SOS mural benefiting McAleer Creek in nearby Lake Forest Park, WA. This mural is perfectly located along two concrete barricades above McAleer Creek's culvert along a busy road. I partnered with the Lake Forest Park Stewardship Foundation to host another Community Paint Day in September 2022.

The Impact: While the most visible impact of SOS is 300-feet of bright murals, the biggest impact is community involvement. Between both Community Paint Days, over 370 volunteer painters and 1,000+ attendees learned to become better stewards of their local streams. Tens of thousands of additional community members walk, bike, and drive by these three completed murals.

Further Education: In addition, an estimated 2.5 million people have been reached through the awareness aspect in media, spreading the word on how to be involved in stream restoration. SOS has been featured in 23 local and national media outlets spreading awareness about my salmon through my project including NBC's KING 5, ABC's KOMO 4, Seattle Refined, 425 Magazine, and The Seattle Times. In September 2022, the SOS Initiative was awarded the Barron Prize for Young Heroes and named one of the top 15 international projects making communities better.

Continuing to Give Back: A unique aspect of SOS is the impact continues long after the paint has dried. I've developed a line of SOS merchandise (T-shirts, stickers, magnets, bookmarks, prints) which are sold in a dozen local shops, including the Ballard Locks and Issaquah Salmon Hatchery gift shops. 100% of merchandise proceeds go to salmon restoration - so far raising $23,541 for stream restoration & awareness efforts.

The Future of SOS in 2023: By the end of 2023 (my second year since starting SOS), I am on track to have completed seven SOS Murals along six streams (which are all in the planning stages now) - with an expected 2,000 volunteers and 6,000 event attendees total. The communities along Issaquah Creek, North Creek, Sammamish River, and the Magnuson Park Western Fisheries Research Lab will all receive their own murals and community Paint Days in 2023. My public art projects with SOS not only brighten up communities - but empower, educate, and inspire community members to restore salmon streams. It's public art, with a purpose.

This quote from The Seattle Times article sums up the SOS Initiative: 'It takes a village to paint a mural. Sometimes it takes a teen to bring a town together' (The Seattle Times, Sept 2022).

-- Links: SOS Through Art website:

The Seattle Times article:

KING 5 News video:
Date: December 31, 2022 Views: 1935 File size: 18.9kb, 264.2kb : 1058 x 1006
Hours Volunteered: 2,700+
Volunteers: 170+
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: I am 17 & volunteers ages range from 4 to 74
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