Community Commentary: Interpretive center celebrates 10 years

The Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center is 10 years old this year. This jewel of the Orange County Parks system offers panoramic views of Upper Newport Bay. Yet it is nestled so unobtrusively in the bluffs on the bay's north side that many local residents aren't that the 10,000-square-foot educational facility is there.

If you are a nature lover or a fine art lover, this weekend is a great time to discover or rediscover the interpretive center, when the sixth Biennial SOCALPAPA Paints Back Bay Art Show and Sale kicks off an ongoing celebration of the center's 10th anniversary. At the event a set of three stunning interactive exhibits, installed as part of a major remodeling of the entryway to the center, will "go live" for the first time.

SOCALPAPA stands for the Southern California Plein Air Painters Assn. Over the years the Bay has been a magnificent source of inspiration to its artists, who are often seen on the patio at the interpretive center, "interpreting" the richness of the ever-changing scenery through their brush stokes. A desire on the part of the SOCALPAPA membership to give something back to the Bay led to the now biennial show and sale of original fine art, held in collaboration with OC Parks, the Newport Beach Arts Foundation and the Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends.

This collaboration expanded with SOCALPAPA's involvement in the creation of the three new exhibits at the interpretive center. The Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends are honored to have been asked to manage this design and construction project, which was funded through the office of the 2nd District of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Each exhibit includes a spectacular plein air mural to help connect what visitors see outside with the ecological concepts "interpreted" inside and touch screens to provide a self-directed learning experience. You can get a sneak preview by watching City Scenes on Newport Beach TV.

Upper Newport Bay is the largest remaining natural estuary in southern California. Here saltwater from the ocean mixes with nutrient-rich freshwater from inland sources to create a marvelously complex and finely-tuned natural system with an abundance of wildlife. What better way to introduce visitors to the concept of an estuary than through the interpretation of a skilled artist painting a familiar vista at the bay?

The Art Show and Sale will take place at the Interpretive Center, 2301 University Drive, Newport Beach (at the corner of Irvine Ave.) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. More that 60 artists will display original paintings of the Back Bay and other local scenes. Thirty-five percent of all sales will go to the Naturalists, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit corporation, to support restoration and education programs conducted at Upper Newport Bay. Admission and parking are free.

ROGER MALLETT is executive director of the Newport Bay Naturalists & Friends.

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