MDI Biological Laboratory

From Debris to Art with Nature Links for Lifelong Learning

  • December 7, 2020

Nature Links for Lifelong Learning is a Blue Hill-based nonprofit offering continuing education opportunities for young adults with intellectual disabilities. For one of their classes, students took part in this year’s Art Meets Science project, “From Debris to Art,” with the help of their teacher Maddy Johnson.

This post is slightly adapted from a piece Maddy wrote for Nature Links’ own blog:

For one of our Art Hours, my students and I explored the world of Ecological Art. Eco-artists practice a form of activism through their artwork, through showcasing sustainable creative processes and producing pieces that help to preserve or remediate the environment.

For inspiration, we turned to the work of Mariah Reading, an eco-artist from Bangor, Maine who was collaborating with MDI Biological Laboratory on their 2020 Art Meets Science project, “From Debris to Art,” encouraging citizen scientists to explore their artistic side while making observations on and building awareness of man-made marine debris.

Mariah and I collaborated on a video showing her painting process (below), as part of the collaboration at MDIBL. This project invites anyone to participate – find a piece of debris in the environment, and transform it into a piece of art. Then, share your finished work by uploading it to an online gallery!  You can read more about the overall project here.



For the workshop part of our class, I challenged everyone to bring in a piece of trash to emulate Mariah’s process. I wasn’t sure at first how to handle the marine debris I chose: tangled up plastic rope. This kind of trash is a very common sighting on our Maine beaches. I removed it from the beach, cut off a length of it, and coiled it into a beautiful circular pattern. Already, it was transforming! Then, after priming this new surface, I painted the circular coils with ocean-inspired colors.

My students chose to take another route on their work – instead creating pollution-themed drawings.






A huge thanks to Maddy and her students at Nature Links for Lifelong Learning for participating in “From Debris to Art,” a project that was made possible by the generous support of The Onion Foundation. The Onion Foundation is a private philanthropic foundation based in Maine. Their mission is to encourage conservation and stewardship of the natural environment and to promote music and the arts in the state of Maine.

“From Debris to Art” is open and free for all to participate, and is hosted on Anecdata, an online citizen science platform developed by MDIBL. You can sign up here, we’d love to see your art made from debris!