People gather for Raise the Reef Tuesdays

Artist Stacy Hortner, standing, talks with people gathered for Raise the Reef Tuesdays.

‘Raise the Reef Tuesdays’ Connects Lehigh to the Community

The project seeks to raise awareness of climate change through interactive art. 

Photography by

Christa Neu

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As their hooks glided carefully through brightly colored yarn, Allentown artist Stacy Hortner and the others who had gathered at the Lehigh University Art Galleries on this Tuesday evening began to create crocheted pieces reminiscent of coral.  

Sitting around a rectangular table, they focused on making the bright-colored coral pieces inspired by the Crochet Coral Reef now on display at LUAG’s Main Gallery. Hortner helped novice crocheters with their pieces for a Lehigh Satellite Reef, while Stacie Brennan, curator of education at LUAG, brought up the issue of climate change.

A close-up of a participant in Raise the Reef Tuesdays crocheting.

A participant in Raise the Reef Tuesdays crochets a coral piece.

This was the opening day for Raise the Reef Tuesdays, an interactive art project that is part of the Crochet Coral Reef on exhibit through Dec. 7. The project, brought to life by sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim, and their California-based Institute for Figuring, seeks to raise awareness about climate change by helping people to visualize the impact of pollution on the environment. The project brings a global issue to a local level so that communities can better grasp the environmental problems the world faces.

“It’s a new opportunity for us to not only reach the greater Lehigh community, the faculty and their children, but also the surrounding community in Bethlehem,” said Hortner. There are “so many wonderful things” about the project, she said, including the community’s involvement in creating the Lehigh Satellite Reef and the attention being drawn to the dangers of pollution on coral reefs. The satellite reef will become an accessioned artwork when completed.

“People should not be intimidated [in joining in the crocheting],” said Hortner. “If they want to try it, they should, or even just observe, because they might be tempted to pick up a hook.”  

“Raise the Reef Tuesdays,” held Tuesdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m., will continue through Dec. 3. Through the interactive sessions, LUAG is advancing its mission to “advance critical thinking, cultural understanding, and well-being for campus and community through transformative experiences with art.” 

Hands-on, interactive art projects give students, local artists and faculty the opportunity to forge connections with one another and become active participants in climate change discussions, said Mark Wonsidler, LUAG’s curator of exhibitions and collections. 

“The thing that I think is at the heart of [the project] is this idea of a form of embodied knowledge that exists at the intersection of many different disciplines--the way that making something by hand changes the way you think, and opens up new possibilities,” he said. 

Brennan said an exhibition that encompasses hands-on learning is important, as many people are sensory and tactile learners. The interactive aspect helps people to absorb what the art is meant to teach, she said. 

The Coral Forest sculptures on display at LUAG are littered with plastic objects such as grocery bags and little creamer cups, mimicking ecosystems that have been affected by pollution.

The crochet coral reef displayed in LUAG

Crochet Coral Reef runs through Dec. 7.

“I keep having this experience with people who come through, and they look, and they really look closely, because the works are so intricate,” said Wonsidler. “And often there's this ‘aha moment,’ where someone recognizes something that's lodged into it, or that it's made out of a certain kind of plastic that's familiar. And then there's this kind of moment of recognition.” 

Wonsidler said visitors often experience a moment of implication, where they are forced to think about how their own actions are leading to the destruction of these ecosystems. 

After the project’s arrival at Lehigh, Wonsidler found himself Googling “the Great Barrier Reef” to learn about the impact of climate change on the natural wonder. What he found was devastating, he said. Images of a bright, colorful reef, what the Great Barrier Reef used to look like, contrasted against “bony, bleached, dead sections of the reef.”

So far, he said, more than 10,000 people, including those locally, have been involved in adding to the crochet coral reef project at exhibits around the world. 

“It's in the DNA of the project, that it would continue to grow, that it would send out seeds to all kinds of different places in the world, and then those seeds would start to grow. It has this organic, ever-expanding quality,” said Wonsidler. 

Wonsidler hopes that the interactive aspect of the LUAG exhibition is changing how people think about museums too. No longer are museums just quiet, stuffy places, but rather they are spaces where people can actively engage in art by both looking and making, he said. 

“This is an opportunity to participate in what might be one of the largest, if not the largest, worldwide community art projects, that's right here at our doorstep,” Wonsidler said. “And I hope that people will take advantage of it. It’s a unique local opportunity to participate in this very global thing.” 

Story by Kelley Barrett

Photography by

Christa Neu

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