The buzz and excitement in the gallery space was so intense, one could hardly hear themselves speak. It felt like a hip new club scene, but these folks were there for science.

Colorful artwork
Exhibit artwork on display at SymbioSEAS. (Photo credit: Judy Lemus)

It was First Friday in Chinatown, and hundreds of people had crammed into the modest gallery space at The Arts at Marks Garage on March 1 to view the opening of a unique exhibit on communicating science through art. It was one of the biggest opening night crowds the gallery had ever experienced.

“Will this be a recurring event?” was a commonly asked question. Hopefully, the answer will be “yes.”

SymbioSEAS: Connecting Science, Education, Art and Society through Coral Reefs is a locally-based art exhibit that aims to bring global awareness to the health and rehabilitation of the ocean and coral reefs. The exhibit represents a year-long effort of more than 40 scientists and staff at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, as well as UH Hilo faculty and staff, community artists and organizers, culminating in a gallery that showcases coral ecosystem research through various 2D and 3D mediums.

The exhibit is on display through March 30, 2019.

A variety of public programs will accompany the gallery throughout the month, including science and art workshops, community dinners, film screenings and more.

An exciting collaboration

“This collaboration is powerful because we treat art and science as equals. SymbioSEAS is an exciting way to engage and communicate our research to the public,” said Beth Lenz, the HIMB doctoral candidate who received grant funding to start this project. “We hope those who view the gallery and attend our events gain a stronger appreciation for the invaluable ecosystem that provides so much for us and that we, as a collective community, can return the favor by creating positive change.”

Four people with artwork.
From left, UH Hilo’s John Burns, Jon Goebel, Jade Kauwe and Kawelina Cruz with their collaborative artwork, “Reef.” (Courtesy photo from UH Hilo Stories)

SymbioSEAS is being held in honor of former HIMB Director Ruth Gates, a coral reef conservation trailblazer, who died on October 25, 2018. The gallery is intended to connect people on aesthetic and informative levels about the oceans and specifically Hawaiian coral reef communities.

“As a center of innovation, HIMB values the synergy between art and science, and has been sponsoring collaborative efforts between artists and scientists for several years,” said Judy Lemus, HIMB interim director. “Beth Lenz, Kirsten Carlson and the many faculty and students who contributed art to the exhibit have all done amazing work. We are especially proud to be a part of this tribute to Dr. Ruth Gates, because it truly honors her wonderful enthusiasm and dedication to two things she loved: coral reefs and communicating science.”

SymbioSEAS was partially funded by the Western Society of Naturalists Rafe Sagarin Fund for Innovative Ecology through a grant to Beth Lenz and the HIMB MakerLab with support from the National Science Foundation.

SymbioSEAS Events

The Arts at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Avenue

—By Marcie Grabowski