The Gay Head Gallery is nestled amid a stand of scrub oak along State Road in Aquinnah. An electric vehicle charges in the driveway and inside the cozy home/gallery artwork hangs on every wall. The art depicts scenes from around the Island — a thunderstorm rolls in over the south shore, a stiff wind blows through a green pasture. But the art, while beautiful, doesn’t just please the eye. The current show is called Changing Coastlines, and the art details the way that erosion is shaping, re-shaping and, in some cases, destroying the Martha’s Vineyard coastline.
Changing Coastlines is just one of Gay Head Gallery’s many art shows intended to spread the word about important environmental issues. The gallery’s mission is to “protect the rare and endangered” and its upcoming show, Conservation Crossroads: Extinction or Recovery, will focus on promoting the Endangered Species Act and biodiversity. The show will highlight and is a benefit for Defenders of Wildlife, one of the nation’s leading organizations trying to protect the Endangered Species Act.
The show’s opening on Saturday, August 24, will feature a presentation by Don Barry, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife. An environmental lawyer, Mr. Barry spent his first few years out of law school working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop regulations that would govern the Endangered Species Act which was signed into law in 1973. Now, through Defenders of Wildlife, he protects the act he once helped create.
This year, the Endangered Species Act will be celebrating its 40th anniversary and Mr. Barry said he thinks the act has been incredibly successful. He estimates that more than 2,000 species have been granted protected status and cites success stories such as that of the bald eagle, which grew from 417 mating pairs to 11,040 between 1963 and 2007 when it was de-listed.
“[The Endangered Species Act] is the strongest federal law to promote the environment, but it’s constantly under attack by its opponents in Congress,” Mr. Barry said.
He also said that among the many threats to the Endangered Species Act, some of the most common are amendments intended to weaken the ESA that its opponents attach to must-pass bills. Like a magnet and iron filings, he said, the amendments are added to important bills, knowing that the bill must be passed and that the amendment will be approved without contest.
“It’s sort of like being in a video game, where the number of these amendments just keeps speeding up,” Mr. Barry said. “What we need to do in this country is go back and really assess what our values are. We believe it’s time for the American public to have this conversation.”
The upcoming Conservation Crossroads show will help to do just that. The show’s art focuses on the North Atlantic right whale and the gray wolf, two endangered species. Mr. Barry said that right whales are always in danger of ship strikes or being tangled in fishing lines. Gay Head Gallery director Megan Ottens-Sargent said she believes that the gray wolf will soon be unfairly de-listed from the Endangered Species Act.
The show is not so much a fundraiser as it is a call to action. Ms. Ottens-Sargent said she wants to educate the public about key environmental issues and to encourage people to support the associated non-profits.
“I want to give people access to resources that open them up to conversation about conservation issues,” Ms. Ottens-Sargent said. “We recognize that art connects with people on a deeper level and we want to connect people with organizations that are doing good work.”
The opening reception for Conservation Crossroads: Extinction or Recovery is Saturday, August 24, from 5 to 7 p.m. The Gay Head Gallery, located at 32 State Road in Aquinnah, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Call 508-645-2776.