There are no Captain Ahabs in the high desert.
But a whale has been lured in Santa Fe.
Ethyl, an 82-foot long, life-sized sculpture of a blue whale fashioned from recycled plastic, has found a home on the field behind Santa Fe Community College’s fitness center on the northeast corner of campus. Billed as art with a message, the installation will be introduced to the public during an Earth Day ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday.
The community college and Meow Wolf collaborated to bring the sculpture to Northern New Mexico in an attempt to teach the broader community about plastic’s life cycle.
“It’s always super exciting to see the public’s reaction to Ethyl,” said Yustina Salnikov, who created the sculpture along with fellow artist Joel Dean Stockdill. “Like any kind of art, it’s up to everybody to interpret what they get out of it, but we hope to spark some inspiration for action and raise awareness for plastic pollution.”
The community college said Ethyl will stay in the same spot on campus for at least a year. The sculpture originally was commissioned by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Northern California, and Stockdill and Salnikov spent more than five months hand recycling more than 4,000 pounds of trash by cleaning and cutting plastic before melting it down into usable pieces.
They also say part of the inspiration for the whale sculpture is the fact that every nine minutes, 300,000 pounds — about the weight of a blue whale, the world’s largest mammal — ends up in the ocean.
Salnikov said the installation was first introduced to the public at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco from October to through March. Salnikov and Stockdill have spent around 80 hours assembling the sculpture, which is hollow with a metal frame on its inside and more than 750 plastic panels and strips composing its outer frame, since it arrived on campus in pieces April 9.
Ethyl will be on display a few hundred yards away from students taking courses dedicated to sustainability. The college offers certificates in solar energy, biofuels, algae cultivation and an associate degrees in sustainable technologies, and is partnering with Northern New Mexico College to offer a free five-week environmental technician training course that begins next month.
About 67 percent of the electricity used by the college is produced by solar panels on campus, according to school officials.
“We’re not just keeping the lights on with sustainable energy,” said Camilla Bustamante, a dean at SFCC. “We’re teaching people how to use this equipment on campus and then out in communities across New Mexico.”
Transitioning to more renewable energies has been a topic in education for the past several years, both locally and nationally. SFCC Plant Operations Manager Henry Mignardot said in 2014 when the college began most of its sustainability initiatives, the main campus was spending more than $800,000 per year in energy costs. Since then, those costs have dropped to around $475,000.
Similarly, Santa Fe Public Schools Sustainability Program Coordinator Lisa Randall said that since her position was created in 2010, the district has reduced its usage of water by 43 percent, natural gas by 38 percent and electricity by 13 percent to bring its yearly utility bill down by about $500,000.
Randall added that about 65 percent of energy used by Santa Fe High School comes from solar power, compared to about 20 percent district-wide. The district this year created the new position of sustainability program specialists in order to connect its own green efforts with academic lessons.
“Sustainability has really been a district priority,” Randall said. “We’ve seen commitment from superintendents and board members and been able to make some pretty incredible process in less than 10 years.”
Organizers say Monday’s Earth Day event will focus on addressing climate change in order foster a sustainable, healthy environment and protect our planet for future generations. At SFCC, the installation’s symbolism will coexist on campus with programs and practices that share a similar message.
“Our partnership with Santa Fe Community College is really meaningful,” Meow Wolf director of community outreach Danika Padilla said. “They have a world-renowned sustainability and environmental program. Together, we plan to partner with local schools and non-profit organizations to convey Ethyl’s message of conservation.”
Earth Day events
Unveiling of Ethyl: A life-size sculpture of a blue whale, made from recycled plastic, will be introduced to the community during a celebration at 11 a.m. Monday at Santa Fe Community College, 6401 Richards Ave.
Community Day at the Garden: Santa Fe Botanical Garden, 715 Camino Lejo on Museum Hill, will offer free admission to New Mexico residents and all students from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday.
Nature hike: For a suggested donation of $5, the Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary will host an Earth Day nature hike; meet at 1800 Upper Canyon Road at 10:30 a.m. Monday
Native Earth Day: The Santa Fe Indian Center, 1420 Cerrillos Road, will celebrate Earth Day from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday with a free family event. Activities include planting seeds, storytelling, making a bird feeder and more.
Earth Day Celebration at Railyard Park: The Railyard Park Conservancy presents a family celebration with the theme “Protect our Species” from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. The event focuses on New Mexico’s biodiversity with a host of activities, including demonstrations, puppets, games, a bicycle cruise, animal ambassadors from area wildlife centers, costume-making, a labyrinth and a scavenger hunt. Musical groups will perform and help launch costume parades around the park.