Wildlife artists here to help conserve Hula Valley

Artists For Nature's director: We do environmental activism "in a friendly way, not waving signs or protesting."

hula valley 224.88 (photo credit: Society for the Protection of Nature)
hula valley 224.88
(photo credit: Society for the Protection of Nature)
Seven internationally-renowned wildlife artists are visiting Israel for a week to help raise awareness about Lake Agmon in the Hula Valley. The artists are all painters who specialize in birds, and were chosen because of the abundance of avian species that flock to the lake located in the southern part of the valley. Seven Israeli wildlife artists are working alongside the visitors. The artists will spend each day in the wild drawing and painting, and the week-long festival will culminate in an exhibition of their work on Tuesday night, festival organizer Zev Labinger told The Jerusalem Post. English-Scottish artist Darren Woodhead waxed enthusiastic after the first full day in the field on Thursday. "The whole atmosphere is great. There were some kingfishers, just amazing, that I've never seen before," Woodhead told the Post by phone. This is Woodhead's, and all the artists', first trip to Israel. "My only way [to paint] is to walk outside, to get into the elements. There is some light that you can really only see when you are there," said Woodhead, an artist in residence near Edinburgh. "There was this one moment where the light changed from one moment to the next and the colors just changed." Labinger spent the better part of two years putting the festival together; it includes lectures and tours through the region. Labinger, a biologist and ecologist who works at the Israel Ornithological Center tracing bird migration patterns near Lake Agmon, is also an amateur painter. Two years ago, he contacted the Dutch organization Artists For Nature about bringing in wildlife artists to raise public awareness. "A painting is worth a thousand words - it's much more effective than lecturing," Labinger said. The artists were chosen not only because they focus on birds, but because they could all complete an entire painting in a day, Artists For Nature's director and founder Yserand Browers told the Posta. "We hope to turn the paintings into a book, into posters, and calendars," he said. "By making the birds of Lake Agmon famous, we can help ensure that the delicate balance between encroaching development, the pressures of civilization and the natural habitat remains preserved," Labinger said. He raised the funds for the project from the European Commission, the Jewish National Fund, the Hula Agmon reserve and the Hotel Mitzpe Hayamim, which is hosting the festival. The project only received final budget approval in November, so Labinger had to put it together in just a couple of months. Labinger had been in touch with Browers, and the two organized the delegation. Browers founded Artists For Nature in 1990. A collector of wildlife art since his early 20s, Browers, now 61, has organized trips to 25 different countries. He said he had worked with 120 artists in the last 18 years. This is the first delegation to Israel and Browers's first visit here. "I read Leon Uris's Exodus years ago, but it took me many more years to get here," he said. Browers explained how artists can help the environment. "As opposed to photography, they can put emotion into a painting. But most important in conservation is education. It's easy to reach adults and children [through paintings]," he said. Browers described his organization as a catalyst between the large conservation bodies, the public and politicians. A lot of the trips turn into books that the large conservation organizations, like the World Wildlife Fund, put out, he said. We also get areas onto conservation lists, he added. We do environmental activism "in a friendly way, not waving signs or protesting, but showing the beauty of the area," Browers said. Browers said he would come back again with another group sometime soon. For Labinger, this is the first of what he hopes will be many more such festivals. "I'd like to see this turn into an annual event," he said.