Morgan Cook, “Habitat”

On Exhibit: ‘Art for Animals’ at BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo

Baton Rouge is a town that loves its tigers. 

From LSU’s Bengal-Siberian mix Mike VII in his waterfall-drenched habitat to the Malayans and Sumatrans sunning next to Asian aviary and Siamang exhibits at BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo, the city supports nearly everything in stripes. Yet, Panthera tigris remains on the endangered species list with less than 6,000 estimated to be living in the wild.

So, how can people in the Capital City contribute to the survival of big cats and other wildlife worldwide? That’s the question at the heart of the Art for Animals Festival.

The November 11 event at BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo includes zookeeper chats, live music, artists painting portraits of animals on exhibit, and the opening of the zoo’s first-ever “Art for Animals” exhibition. 

In this inaugural year, the show received 81 entries from artists throughout Southeast Louisiana. The juried exhibit features 51 two-dimensional pieces in pencil, oil, acrylic and watercolor, as well as photography, digital and multimedia artwork. Subjects range from African landscapes to animal portraits of foxes, primates, exotic birds, rhinos and octopi, among other creatures.

“We’re elevating art to communicate our mission, which is to connect people with animals, the natural world and conservation,” explains Madison Petty, the BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo’s special events and membership coordinator. 

While the connection to animals and nature is almost immediate, conservation takes more education. 

“The first step is awareness,” says Petty. “Besides art inspired by animals and the landscapes that make up their habitat, the exhibit presents information about conservation. Those messages are amplified at the festival, as visitors see the animals and hear the keepers talk about what the species need to survive and how humans impact their habitat.”

With BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo being part of a consortium that collaborates on nearly 30 international Species Survival Plans for critically endangered species, the staff are uniquely equipped to educate guests, an objective that exists year-round through both special events, like Art for Animals, and everyday programming.

Organizers hope that the impact of this event will carry long past the festival’s activities or the limited showing of the artworks. Raising money for conservation efforts is one tangible piece of this. Another is less tangible but equally important, and that is the work of inspiring people, young and old, to see the beauty of nature and the value of preserving it. Through artistic interpretations of animals in the wild and in the zoo, organizers like Petty are hoping to ignite the spark that pushes people to action in the name of conservation.