Mindfully Creative Spotlight: “Make Art Not Litter” in Georgia’s Golden Isles

Since my first visit in 1996, I have been in love with the Golden Isles region off the coast of Georgia.  My favorite island is St. Simons Island, Georgia (SSI),  a beautiful resort area steeped with history and gorgeous views of the surrounding Atlantic ocean.  One of the women who has been a constant in my life, and who I call one of my #BFF, Lea King-Badyna is a resident, and introduced me to the area after we met while working on the same job when I visited the area for a work assignment.  It was love at first site and from then my friendship with Lea has grown as well as my love for the island.

Not long ago, Lea shared something on her Facebook feed that caught my eye about an art installation project she was overseeing in the area called the Right Whale Litter Sculpture project.   I quickly contacted her and asked if I could feature it as part of my on-going blog and podcast series about how art is making a difference in the lives of people and communities.  She agreed to be interviewed about it and I am absolutely thrilled to share how art is making a difference in one of my favorite getaways in the United States.

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Lea King-Badyna

Before we get into this special project, let me share a little bit about my friend Lea.

Lea joined Keep Golden Isles Beautiful as executive director in December of 2013, leading the 38 year-old organization’s charge in the areas of litter prevention, waste reduction and recycling, community greening, water resource awareness and youth education.  She was recently named “2016 executive director of the year” in the Keep Georgia Beautiful 78 affiliate network.

She attended Mercer University and graduated cum laude from Valdosta State College with a BFA in speech communications with an emphasis in public relations. Lea’s public and community relations career spans 25 years in the Golden Isles with particular emphasis in the coastal environmental realm. Spending a decade with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources/Coastal Resources Division, she organized and coordinated CoastFest, Georgia ’s largest outdoor celebration of coastal, historical, natural and cultural resources, growing the event to 90 exhibitors and over 7,000 annual attendees. Prior to joining Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, Lea worked as part of the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service and Georgia Sea Grant’s communications team, serving outposts in Brunswick, Athens, Atlanta  and Savannah.

Active within the community, Lea is a founding member and past chairperson of the Glynn County 4-H Advisory Council, FaithWorks volunteer, LifeLink of Georgia and Brunswick Transplant Group organ donation awareness community educator and a YMCA Tribute to Women Leaders event volunteer.

Share a little about Keep Golden Isles Beautiful

Since 1979, Keep Golden Isles Beautiful has been a leader in helping keep the Golden Isles of Georgia clean, green and beautiful. A volunteer and community based organization, volunteers contribute 19,000+ hours annually in Keep Golden Isles Beautiful efforts, programs and initiatives.

Keep Golden Isles Beautiful is a Keep America Beautiful and Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation affiliate. A public/private partnership, Keep Golden Isles Beautiful depends on monetary, in-kind and volunteer support from individuals, businesses, local governments, civic/community organizations and schools to provide litter prevention, waste reduction, recycling, community greening, water resource and educational programming and activities to Brunswick and Glynn County citizens.

A 501(C) 3 non-profit organization, Keep Golden Isles Beautiful functions under the leadership of a volunteer Board of Directors and Advisory Board and has a full time staff of two.

Tell me about the litter sculpture installations…how did it come about? Who are the artists? What is the goal of the installation?

In 2015, Keep Golden Isles Beautiful volunteers recovered 65.6 tons of litter and 60.7 tons of recyclables from area roadways, waterways, marshes and public spaces. Seeking innovative community engagement opportunities focusing on litter prevention, the organization was awarded two grants that fund a creative project to tackle litter in a unique way. Teaming with the City of Brunswick, Glynn County, the Golden Isles Convention & Visitors Bureau and Golden Isles Arts & Humanities Association, Keep Golden Isles Beautiful has combined litter prevention and public art access.

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The Shrimp at Blythe Island Regional Park

In January/February 2017, five unique sculptures were placed in community public spaces, each portraying a coastal creature and highlighting the effects litter has on its environment. Fabricated of metal mesh, each hollow sculpture contains internal space for trash placement, spotlighting the juxtaposition of creature versus litter.

Involving volunteers and community partners, the premise of the project was simple: CLEAN. Volunteers participated in community cleanups. CREATE. Participants filled the sculptures with the collected litter. CELEBRATE. Community members gathered to share their efforts and celebrate the sculpture installations that represent a clean and green community.

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The Wale, Coast Guard Station

It was important to place each sculpture in a public space located beside water, to show the connection of land litter to marine debris: Coast Guard Station park, Right Whale; Overlook Park, Manatee; Mary Ross Park, Pelican; Blythe Island Regional Park, Shrimp; North Glynn Recreational Park, Blue Heron. Educational interpretative signage accompanies each sculpture to highlight the coastal critter, its importance in the Coastal Georgia environment, litter and the negative affect litter has on the coastal critter and/or its environment.

The goal of the project is to increase litter prevention awareness in a creative and unique way while simultaneously providing five new public outdoor art pieces.

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The Pelican at Mary Ross Park

The sculptures are created by Jim Swaim of Environmental Sculptures from North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The “Coastal Litter Prevention Program” sculpture project was made possible to Keep Golden Isles Beautiful under grant award #NA15NOS4190160 to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources from the Office for Coastal Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while the “Make Art Not Litter” sculpture project was made possible by a grant from the Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation.

Do you think art can help change behavior regarding our natural resources?

Art most certainly can lead to behavior change regarding natural resources. Art can begin dialogue, and many times that is the impetus to change, dialogue.

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The Manatee at Overlook Park, SSI, GA

How can people find out more about the project?

Keep Golden Isles Beautiful website:

PBS video, WJCT “Hometown” segment featuring the Litter Prevention Sculptures:

Environmental Sculptures:


The Tree Spirit Project

I recently took a mini-vacation down to St. Simons Island, Georgia, which is one of the Golden Isles off the Georgia coast to begin a new art series that I call The Spirit Tree Project.

A little about St. Simons Island:

Accessible by F.J. Torras causeway, “The Island” as locals refer to it, is approximately four miles from the mainland of Glynn County and has a diverse history dating back to the Creek Indian tribes, long before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s and established at least two Franciscan missions. To prevent the Spanish reclaiming the land, James Oglethorpe established a fortified military outpost consisting of a fort and town on a bend in the Frederica River in 1736. Oglethorpe’s foresight in establishing Frederica Town (named for the Prince of Wales, Frederick Louis) was rewarded when Spanish forces from Florida and Cuba landed in an attempt to retake St. Simons Island.

What has intrigued me even more since coming to the island in 1996, is the Legend of Ebo Landing.

Ebo Landing is located in St. Simons, Georgia. It is said that the chanting of Igbo people can still be heard at the mouth of Dunbar Creek. The creek is near Sea Island on the southeast coast of St. Simon Island. In the 1850s a group of chained enslaved Igbo people were being held on the beach. They had just arrived to America on board the slave ship, The Wanderer, which crashed when the vessel ran ashore. While being held on the beach, the slaves made a suicide pact. Instead of living the rest of their lives in chains, they ran, chained to each other, into the water and drowned. The site is supposedly haunted by their ghosts. People have reported hearing the sound of irons chattering as the slaves ran from the beach into the water.


This story alone has brought me back time and time again through the years to the island.  When I first arrived to the Island years ago, I felt an instant connection to it…that was innate and spiritual.  It would be several years before I learned about this legend and began researching the Gullah culture that spans much of the islands off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida.

Feminine Tree Spirit - Photo Courtesy of Keith Jennings

As an artist, the other feature of the island I was always intrigued by is the “Tree Spirits”…..random carvings of faces in the trees of the island, by artist Keith Jennings.  I always wanted to do an art series of some sort around the carvings and I am in the process of developing a mixed media project around them.   Check out the video below for more information.