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Art and marine science collude in Nerd Night-inspired event at Persephone

Celebrate the Coast, March 9, is modelled on Nerd Nights – a form of relaxed social gathering with a heavy infusion of science, that first appeared in Boston two decades ago – and adapted to reflect the vibrant artistic landscape of the Sunshine Coast. 
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Dr. Fiona Beaty is uniting artists who specialize in ceramics, textiles, prints, photography and architecture to spread knowledge about ocean conservation.

A Gibsons-based marine researcher and conservationist is summoning the strength of the Sunshine Coast’s arts community to inspire a more neighbourly relationship with the natural environment. 

Fiona Beaty, who earned her PhD last year from the University of British Columbia’s department of zoology, last December invited the Persephone Brewing Company to host an event she calls Celebrate the Coast. 

Beaty is currently working with coastal First Nations and provincial and federal governments to create a marine protected area network from the top of Vancouver Island to the Canada-Alaska border. Although the Persephone event (scheduled for March 9) has conservation science in its crosshairs, Beaty’s primary focus is straightforward: increasing knowledge and enthusiasm about the Salish Sea. 

“I’m a marine biologist,” she said. “So I wanted to start with the ocean. It’s very much a community event than a fundraiser for anything. If this is successful, I would love to host similar events that are themed around other stewardship dimensions like our forests and our creeks. There’s so much scope for connecting people to the ecology here.” 

Beaty modelled the event on Nerd Nights, a form of relaxed social gathering with a heavy infusion of science, that first appeared in Boston two decades ago. She explained that informal settings like bars or cabarets help adults absorb cutting-edge research and unfamiliar topics. She adapted the Nerd Night scheme to reflect the vibrant artistic landscape of the Sunshine Coast. 

Lee-Ann Ennis, a local biologist who heads up the BC Conservation Foundation’s Vital Kelp Project, will join Beaty in making short presentations (“more like storytelling,” Beaty said). 

Participants will experience original music by performers Estelle Honeywell and indie/folk singer Natalie Moon (who appears as Daughter of the Moon). Honeywell performed her style of “romantic ocean folk” at the Music in the Landing series at Winegarden Park in 2023. Moon began releasing her latest acoustic album, River of Stars, late last year. 

“We want to build relationships across different communities of people who care about the ocean,” added Beaty. “That includes artists, scientists, community members, and farmers — really anybody. We’re trying to showcase different ways that the ocean inspires people through bringing together this diverse ensemble.” 

Works by Meghan Walley, Clare Wilkening, Amanda Lertzman, Joshua Wallace, Liz Haines, Simon Haiduk, Cambria Logan and Trina M’Lot will be exhibited during the event.  

The contributors themselves reflect the fusion of conservation and art: Walley is a fine artist and scientific illustrator from the Sunshine Coast. Cambria Logan, a NASA engineer based in Roberts Creek, uses birch and pine panels to depict vibrant landscapes. Wallace is an architect featured at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery in 2022, where he exhibited sound-producing structures powered by wind and waves. 

Beaty’s work with the Skwxwú7mesh Nation enhanced her appreciation for Indigenous approaches to stewardship and ways of transmitting knowledge. “My mind is blown with the Nation of having your whole history and your whole ancestry be rooted in this one geographic place,” she said. “I think the principles of reciprocity and relationship have really transformed the way that I see, as a scientist, as a researcher, and as a community member.” 

Celebrate the Coast is open to all members of the public, and starts at 5:30 p.m. on March 9 at the Persephone Brewing Company. Oysters will be served by vendor Emmas Tsao (manager of the Fisherman’s Market in Lower Gibsons), who herself has a degree in environmental biology and fishery science.