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Why And How Linda Cabot of Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs Decided To Change Our World with Penny Bauder

There really is no other choice — we all have to be environmentalists. We must address the climate crisis now, and we must do so radically and equitably, or a devastating number of human, animal, and plant communities will lose their homes and lives. Find an issue that matters most to you or your community, […]

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There really is no other choice — we all have to be environmentalists. We must address the climate crisis now, and we must do so radically and equitably, or a devastating number of human, animal, and plant communities will lose their homes and lives. Find an issue that matters most to you or your community, and do your part to envision and create a better future.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Cabot.

Linda Cabot, founder and president of Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs, is a visual artist and poet who credits a lifetime of sailing for her love of the seas. Linda is a board member of Women Working for Oceans and a trustee of the New England Aquarium. She is a founding partner of the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, a scientific endeavor focusing on fisheries conservation and aquaculture solutions, marine mammal research and conservation, habitat and ecosystem health, and marine animal health. Linda was recently recognized as the “Global Changemaker Honoree” by New England International Donors for her long-term commitment to restoring the ocean’s ecosystems.

As an advocate for educational reform and quality education for all children, Linda serves as a life trustee of Neighborhood House Charter School and was a founding board member of Horizons at Dedham Country Day. Linda is passionate about harnessing the power of the arts to educate, engage, and empower people around social issues, and is a trustee and co-chair of the Education Cornerstone Committee at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and a founding member of Rise Documentary Films.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Ispent long summer days outdoors in Maine with my extended family. I was a “dirty feet” kind of kid, always close to the water, beach combing and running around shorelines. When I was a bit older, I loved riding out on the bow seat of our sailboat, gazing deep into the water below and wondering what the world under the sea was like. Nature spoke to me, and I was mesmerized by it. That, in great part, is why I became a painter. I wanted to honor the natural beauty I saw around me and celebrate its importance to me. Wonder about the world is the seed in me — everything grows from that.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I founded Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs to encourage students to learn about important ocean issues and actively create art that reflects their knowledge and hopes for the future. I started the program after creating a documentary about the Gulf of Maine with my own daughters, who were teenagers at the time. It was crystal clear to me that my daughters were so much more engaged, and that the learning was much deeper for all of us, because of the artistic component of the filmmaking process. I wanted to bring that opportunity to other young people around the world.

Art-making and creative communications pair beautifully with science — it makes complicated issues more tangible and understandable. Our organization is unique in that we not only educate students; we also give young people a platform to express their individual voices — a platform where they can create and share their own personal visions for the future. We know that when students actively create something, they learn in a more meaningful and long-lasting way than by simply reading and memorizing information.

After running Bow Seat for five years or so, my reading and research showed me that climate change was the biggest problem impacting oceans. I knew we needed to help youth explore that issue through our annual flagship program, the Ocean Awareness Contest, which invites students to explore the connections between human activities and the health of our oceans through visual art, writing, film, music, and multimedia. The oceans really are at the frontline of the climate change assault; sea level rise, extreme storm patterns, warming waters, acidification — they are all oceanic calls for help in response to the climate crisis. Through our Contest, we have engaged thousands of students worldwide around the biggest environmental issue facing society today.

In light of COVID-19, Bow Seat is committed to continuing to provide a space for students to engage in climate advocacy and creative expression. We believe the pandemic provides an opportunity to learn about and reflect on the interconnectedness of human activities and their impact on our planet’s life-support systems — oceans, biodiversity, and climate. In these uncertain times, I think it’s more important than ever for young people to have a creative outlet. We are fortunate that a good part of our work can still go on virtually: students can continue to work on the Contest at home and the submission process is virtual. If you are interested, please see our COVID-19 Resource Page.

Our newest campaign is called Voteless Not Voiceless. I am really excited about it. This new program encourages young people to use their artistic voices in a collective way to share the environmental issues that are important to them as we move toward elections in the fall. Keep an eye out for more on that.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

My best backstory is motherhood. I feel tremendous responsibility to my girls and to the next generation to pass on a healthy world — a world they can thrive and find joy in. I think once I became a mother, I realized that it’s up to me as an adult woman to use my voice, energy, and resources to make the world a better place.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

Creating the documentary with my daughters and seeing the impact this had on them was my “aha moment.” It wasn’t until middle-age that I really found my voice in the environmental world, so I feel really good about energizing students who are young and have many more years of their lives to set the stage to make a difference.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

There are probably a lot of different ways to create an organization, but for me, starting small helped. It doesn’t feel so risky or overwhelming if you start small. I started Bow Seat as an essay contest; the first year it only engaged 60 kids. Now we get nearly 4,000 submissions a year from more than 100 countries. Beyond that, I think an important step is to be prepared to stick with it. Some days feel like you are standing still, but there are also days when you can feel the momentum pull you forward. Those are great days. Do not give up! Lastly, whatever you do, it must reflect a genuine passion so that you can endure the rough times. When days are hard, it’s your true belief in the importance of the mission that pulls you through.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

My big story is just a compilation of little stories — the stories I hear from the students who found a voice and creative outlet through our programs. For example, our intern this summer entered the Contest several years ago not knowing much about climate change or the ocean, but through her research and planning and by developing her artistic voice, she got “hooked” on sustainability and ocean conservation. She launched an eco-club at her school, helped to organize Arizona’s Youth Climate Strike, and was selected to Earth Echo International’s Youth Leadership Council and Sea Youth Rise Up — she is now a leading youth voice advocating for healthy oceans.

It’s these powerful little stories that keep me going. Our online gallery really says it all — it’s full of imaginative, powerful, original artwork that speaks for the ocean. I am inspired by the caliber of work and collective voice of the next generation — I believe they can change things for the better.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I started the Contest as an essay contest; the submissions were largely traditional research papers or analytical essays. Though I do like prose, my dedication to art has always been at the core of who I am. I ignored that initially, knowing an art-based contest would require much more organization and many moving parts. But eventually I just took the leap. I believed that art made science communications infinitely more engaging, and that as students represent their ideas artistically, they process information more deeply. We saw great growth in the Contest once I incorporated an art category. Students welcome the chance to start with a personal vision and to create. You really have to trust your gut and know what you love. It’s not an easy road, but seeing artistic expression from young people all over the world is what keeps me doing what I am doing.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I am a Board member at the New England Aquarium, and I draw inspiration from the amazing staff there, from the researchers to the administrators to the executives. They are all in it for the right reasons and doing their level best to protect the ocean and its creatures. We share concerns and understanding; that’s been valuable to me. I appreciate the people there who are cheerleaders for my creative work and mission at Bow Seat.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Definitely!

  1. Raise awareness of and acknowledge the impact of climate change. We have to show people they can trust the science.
  2. Support and implement policy that makes a difference. For example, I think we need a Green New Deal. We have to do this before it’s too late; the longer we wait, the harder it will be to “right the ship.”
  3. Engage diverse communities — especially youth, people of color, and others most affected by the climate crisis — in the dialogue around and implementation of solutions.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

Bow Seat is a nonprofit, but I do believe that green values can help a business. More and more we are hearing, especially from millennials, that how and where things are made and the values of a company matter. The next generation expects businesses to do their part to keep our society and world healthy, and they choose accordingly.

I have a sustainable home textiles company, Linda Cabot Design. My line of pillows, tablecloths, bedding, and now facemasks is inspired by my paintings. We use local fair-wage stitchers and an environmentally kind production process, so they’re products people can feel good about having in their homes. I believe businesses should make it easy for consumers to make good decisions. It’s a partnership for a better world.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It takes time to build an organization; it does not happen overnight. Be in it for the long haul. Find some positive point to anchor and sustain you when it seems like it is never going to work.
  2. Make a plan every month and start with small goals.
  3. Do your math and assess your plan: what is the impact vs. the cost associated with the plan?
  4. Learn how to collaborate and find synergy with like-minded partners. There are many organizations working to confront environmental threats; we are stronger and more effective when we work together. Last year, we partnered with Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) to host the Healthy Whale, Healthy Ocean Challenge, which engaged K-12 students from New England and the Gulf of Maine regions in a youth-driven public awareness campaign to highlight the plight of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. We leveraged our knowledge of arts advocacy, experience in program implementation, and relationships with students and educators, but recognized that CLF could contribute issue expertise, on-the-ground environmental advocacy experience, and connections to influential conservationists. Through our collaboration, we engaged more people and inspired deeper, more meaningful participation in the effort to protect right whales than would have been possible alone.
  5. Communication is key! Engaging written and visual communication is simply essential for any organization. We have accumulated a large collection of inspiring and powerful student artwork over the years, and we are lucky to be able to use these pieces in our communications, from program flyers to social media.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

There really is no other choice — we all have to be environmentalists. We must address the climate crisis now, and we must do so radically and equitably, or a devastating number of human, animal, and plant communities will lose their homes and lives. Find an issue that matters most to you or your community, and do your part to envision and create a better future.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Jacques Cousteau said “protect what you love”; everybody has heard it, but it is a simple life lesson that sticks with me. As a mother, a sailor, a painter, a nonprofit founder, each day I work to protect what I love.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oh my! I’d have to say President Barack Obama. I admire him for so many reasons, but especially now as I reflect on his empathy and compassion as a leader. I miss his leadership as we go through these difficult times.

How can our readers follow you online?

Yes! Please do.

You can view Bow Seat’s student gallery and learn more about the annual Ocean Awareness Contest at www. bowseat.org, or follow us on Instagram and Twitter (@fromthebowseat) or Facebook. My line of sustainable and organic home products can be seen at Linda Cabot Design.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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