By Margaret Osborne and Neda Karimi
When an opportunity presented itself to gather two hundred reclaimed buoys last summer, the Cornell Cooperative Extension saw it as a chance to engage and educate the public about Suffolk County’s marine environment.
The organization’s marine program outreach manager, Kimberly Barbour, reached out to local artist and founder of the North Fork Art Collective, Kara Hoblin. They brought local artists and community members together to paint buoys, which were sold in a silent auction Oct. 20 at Borghese Vineyard. This was the first year the two organizations held this event.
Although not all of the buoys had bids by the end of the night, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), a nonprofit organization, raised over $3000 for its Back to the Bays initiative, which brings awareness to projects that help marine habitats, shellfish populations and local waterways.
One of the projects that Suffolk County CCE focuses on is shellfish restoration. In the mid 1980s, shellfish populations around Long Island decreased drastically because of algal blooms, which disrupted the ecosystem and caused economic harm to fisherman.
Since 2006, The Cornell Cooperative Extension has raised $45 million for the local economy by placing shellfish hatcheries in Long Island Bays. Governor Andrew Cuomo invested $5.25 million in Sept. 2017 in Suffolk County CCE to plant shellfish at sanctuary sites.
Over the past couple of years, Barbour has worked with local artists on art and science collaborative projects as a platform to engage and inform the public about the organization’s projects.
“The art world does very much link to the natural environment, so many artists use elements of nature in their artwork, so it’s kind of a natural connection,” Barbour said. “But to actually build up some science and real awareness in education into that, it’s just been really effective for us.”
The initiative attracted support from local businesses, such as Mattataco, a new Mexican restaurant local to the North Fork. Mattataco’s owners donated platters of specialty tacos to show their support for the event, while Borghese supplied the wine. Buoys ranged in price from $25 to as much as $250 depending on the artist and quality of the work.
“We want it to be something attainable for somebody to have some fun and buy a buoy,” Barbour said, “but we also want to help some higher end artists that have created pieces.”
This auction serves as an opportunity for entry-level collectors or fans of fine art who want something a little more refined, Barbour explained.
Community members such as Sammie Crooke, a friend of Hoblin’s, bid on the painted buoys, which featured designs with themes ranging from nature to Christmas. Crooke said he is glad to see his community get behind a “really fun art movement.” He bid on a buoy featuring a half-mermaid, half-cat creature for his daughter.
“I think she’d love it,” Crooke said. “My wife likes cats and it’s bright and colorful. I think it’d look really nice in her room.”
Others, such as Southhold’s Marc Demel, went all out. That night, he carried five buoys home.
“They appeal to me,” Demel said. “I like them. I like what the artists did and so I bought them. It’s going for a good cause, so that’s the main reason why we’re here.”
Barbour said that fundraising allows for community members to work directly with CCE staff, assisting with projects or attending restoration workshops
“Our staff is out there nine months of the year on the water and in the water doing the work,” Barbour said. “So it’s been a really great opportunity to create these experiences for the public to actually work side by side with us.”