Festival of Whales Foundation program seeks to engage, inspire local youth
By Andrea Swayne and Jim Shilander
For some students and faculty, it’s a trip they look forward to all year, even for those who have attended since the beginning of the program four years ago. And for others, it’s the new experience they’ve been looking forward to for some time.
On Thursday, Jan. 8, more than 100 students from Dana Hills High School, along with art teachers and other staff members, took their annual trip aboard Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching’s Dana Pride on a two-hour journey of inspiration. Following the whale watching excursion, students walked to the Ocean Institute, to explore the tall ship brig Pilgrim, aquariums and the beach of the marine-protected area behind the facility. It is a day of discovery for all, as students record their experience through photography, plein air sketching and just taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Dana Point’s coastal environment.
The trip is part of a partnership between the school and the Dana Point Festival of Whales Foundation, which allows students to compete to create the official logo for each year’s event. Other student work inspired by the outing is displayed at the Art in the Park exhibition in the Dana Point Harbor during the annual Festival held at the Harbor each spring. This year’s 44th annual festival is set for March 7, 8, 14 and 15. More about the festival can be found online at www.festivalofwhales.com.
And the outing did inspire awe and creativity for the young art students. For much of the trip, the Dana Pride followed a female California gray whale that appeared to be ready to give birth, making its way south toward the Baja lagoons. On a couple of occasions, other boats came close to the whale, with one pleasure craft appearing to float only a few feet above it. A pod of common dolphins also gave students a show, darting in and out of the water near the boat. Because the whale and dolphin sightings were relatively scarce that day, the students found many other subjects to photograph.
Penny Elia, the festival’s executive director, first contacted the high school in 2011 with the idea of creating the logo contest for the students. Every year since then, one winner and four runners-up have been chosen as award winners, with the top choice being utilized as the official logo for the event. This year’s logo design winner is Alec Brady, who was the subject of a feature story in the Oct. 17, 2014 issue of the Dana Point Times unveiling his design and those of the runners-up. Brady will also be featured in the event’s official program and make a few public appearances during the two-weekend event.
“At the time I felt there was a missing component in the festival—our young people,” Elia said. “Students benefit from participating in the art-centric part of our program by interacting alongside working professionals.”
Elia said one of the ultimate goals for the logo design contest and exhibiting student art alongside professional artists—aside from inspiring creativity—is to provide participants with an experience similar to what they could encounter should they choose a career in art while at the same time, instilling a new or greater appreciation for the aquatic environment and the animals that live there.
“The festival does have an environmental message and it’s important for the next generation to be aware of it and willing to carry it forward,” Elia said.
Krista Snow, the AP Studio Art teacher at Dana Hills who has been a part of the program since its inception, said her students, as well as those in the school’s other art classes, begin asking about the field trip at the beginning of the school year, eager to use the inspiration gathered on the trip to create ceramics, sculpture, painting, photography and collage for Art in the Park.
“Being able to participate in a professional art show has helped them build valuable career skills—meeting deadlines, preparing work for exhibition and marketing their work,” Snow said. “The quality of work increases when students know that their work will be viewed by the public.”
Amanda Denison, a ceramics teacher at the high school, said she and her fellow teachers also eagerly anticipate the trip as much as their students do.
“I’ve been looking forward to it since December,” Denison said. “And the kids really love it, especially the ones who’ve done it the year before. It’s a really cool thing we get to do that gets us involved in the community and blends into our classroom. Everybody’s really stoked for it.”
Denison agreed that the opportunity for students to get a taste of what life would be like as a professional artist is essential to the program.
“I think it’s important for them because it’s not just for fun, it becomes a career path for some,” she said. “I went to the school that I’m teaching at. I learned how to be an artist as a student. And I can emphasize that this isn’t something you do just for kicks, you can make a life out of it.”
Drawing and painting teacher Chau Tran said in his experience over the last four years, the trip provides fodder for expression that his students use through the end of the year.
Sophomores Heather Maitino and Sophie Matsumoto were on the second and maiden voyages on the boat. Both girls said they were hoping to utilize waves crashing into the rocks and other images they’d captured.
Senior Nick Karnazes said he was most excited about the images he captured back on land following the boat trip.
“I noticed the different ropes and lines, textures and materials to take pictures of on the Pilgrim and I think I got some pretty interesting shots,” Karnazes said. “But I really enjoyed shooting the animals inside the Ocean Institute.”
Elia recalled speaking with another of the program’s founding teachers, Natalie Hribar-Kelly, whose comments made an impression on her, confirming for her the importance of engaging with local youth as much as possible.
“Natalie said to me, ‘You know, Penny, this can be a game changer for a child,’” Elia said. “She talked about how for some it could change their whole thought process and that it could actually be inspiring a child’s future career. Interacting with adults, as mentors, is something I remember experiencing a lot of as a young person and I think we could really use more of that today.”
A few of the Festival of Whales Foundation field trip participants’ photographs were chosen to be featured along with their comments about the inspiration they found in and around the Harbor that day.
Katherine Redden, sophomore, AP Studio Art
“I got some really nice shots when the dolphins came really close to the boat. That was fun. It was a really cool experience that I will definitely remember for a long time.”
Alexander Beau, senior, AP Studio Art
“I’ve always been interested in taking silhouette and sunrise photos and the lighting on the water was perfect for that. I like that this program gives students the opportunity to show our work and let people know what we are really capable of.”
Sarah Champ, sophomore, AP Studio Art
“The experience of getting outside and going on the boat was really cool, even though we only saw one whale and a few dolphins. The tall ship Pilgrim was a unique subject we don’t usually get to shoot. I found its textures, lines and angles very interesting and inspiring.”
Amy Giraldo, senior, AP Studio Arts, SOCSA Drawing and Painting, ROP Digital Video Production
“Going out on the boat and seeing Dana Point from another perspective was really inspiring. Nature and the natural environment is an inspiration because there’s beauty in simple and natural things.”
Kendra Djokovich, senior, AP Studio Art, Photography at Saddleback College
“Before this I had never been on a whale watching trip before, which seems strange for someone who lives in a city known for it. I had never seen a whale in its natural habitat and it made the ocean seem a lot more alive to me. It was eye-opening to the life that’s just under the surface that we rarely see. It’s different when you actually go out an experience something rather than just learning about it in the classroom. I am inspired to go back out to capture more sea life in the wild.”
Leesa Fregin, junior, AP Studio Art
“I love taking pictures of the ocean and it was really neat to get a warm and cool contrast, between the ocean and the sun from the boat. At the Ocean Institute I enjoyed exploring different angles when photographing the fish. I love this program and the field trip gave me many opportunities to take pictures for my portfolio project and for the Art in the Park show at the Festival of Whales. I want to continue studying photography in college.”
Grant Galloway, senior, AP Studio Art,
“I don’t really get the opportunity to go whale watching, so I thought it was awesome. My teacher lent me one of her zoom lenses so I got some really good shots of the animals. The whales weren’t really showing their tails, so that was a bit disappointing. But I got good shots of dolphins, although they were really fast and unpredictable making them a difficult subject to shoot.”