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Education through Art: Artist Boat’s Founder and Executive Director Karla Klay’s Misson to Conserve and Educate

Artise Boat Galveston, Texas

It was an overcast day when I made my way west to Artist Boat’s HQ to meet with Founder and Executive Director Karla Klay. The drive down Settegast Road is lush with wildlife and greenery, surrounded by wetlands. I stopped a few times to capture videos and photos and to admire the land Klay has helped to preserve. You’ve probably seen Artist Boat’s contributions throughout the island without even knowing it; from the decorated trash barrels during Ocean Day to the tiled seats along the seawall, their impact can be felt all over the island.

According to their website, Artist Boat is a nonprofit organization that promotes awareness and preservation of coastal margins and the marine environment through science and art. Their mission is to connect people to Gulf Coast environments via educational and inspiring experiences, encouraging action to protect these habitats. Thus far, Artist Boat has helped protect over 1000 acres of wetlands in Galveston. Their goal in the next two years is to have protected over 3000 thousand acres of land; this July, they are set to close a deal on a purchase that will protect over 100 acres of land in Anchor Bay.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Karla Klay, Artist Boat's Founder and Executive Director, to discuss the organization’s mission of integrating education, science, and art. Klay has been at the helm of integrating art and science for the past 20 years; Artist Boat celebrated its 20th birthday in August 2023. With degrees in Marine Biology and Fine Arts, Klay wanted to find a way to marry the two. Klay grew up in the Florida Keys with parents who helped pioneer the method of shipping live sharks to educational aquariums worldwide; her neighbors were the Dolphin Research Center. She grew up with the ocean and its surroundings as her playground and friends, and from a young age, she understood their importance. Klay’s experience with wildlife and her passion for preservation and education led to the creation of Artist Boat.

A continuing theme throughout our conversation was “education.” Klay stressed the importance of incorporating art and education into how we see the wildlife and wetlands surrounding us in Galveston. “ Education is so important; we can teach people how to see,” Klay emphasized. Artists Boat and Klay want to offer opportunities for the community to better understand our environment by experiencing it through an artistic lens. With kayaks on the water and summer programs for youth, Artist Boat is hard at work educating the community and enabling people to embrace their artistic side.

So, why is all of this conservation work essential? According to Klay, once the developers have their bulldozers and construction crew on site, the battle is over. We as a community must be PROACTIVE! By supporting organizations like Artist Boat and the Galveston Bay Foundation, we can help fund the purchase of these habitats to protect them. Here is the skinny: currently, developers can purchase the land and do what they want. Organizations like Artist Boat can come in and offer the developer another option. These organizations provide the developers with conservation through selling. As of this writing, the developers from whom Artist Boat has purchased have been willing to negotiate pricing and sell the land to help preserve the wildlife and their habitats. It is important to note that Artist Boat has to raise funds to the tune of well over $1 million most of the time, as donations must be matched when using federal or state grant dollars to purchase the land.

This means that we here in Galveston must come together as a community and help conserve what land is left undeveloped to help preserve this land for wildlife and future generations. You might not think that wetlands affect you directly, but they do. Klay broke down the five functions of wetlands: water filtration, nursery, flood protection, erosion control, and home to wildlife. The wetlands are essential to Galveston, particularly thanks to the flood protection they provide. They also act as a home to some of the most unique birds and other wildlife.

So, how can you help? Education. You can learn more about wildlife and the preserved land by participating in a paint-and-paddle class, where you can enjoy the scenery while expressing your creativity. You can join the Arist Boat crew at their next Ocean Day or other events around the island. You can send your kiddos to their summer camp, where they will learn about the wildlife while exploring the conserved land. Volunteering is also a great option. All of this is to say that we as a community can do our part by educating ourselves to understand our surroundings better. If you are inclined, you can also donate to the cause, which will help Karla and crew secure the next spot of land. Even $10 goes a long way if the entire community gets involved.


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