Polar Artist Paints Climate Change Message


Award-winning Canadian landscape painter Linda Mackey first went to the High Arctic in 2002 with renowned artist Doris McCarthy.

Not only was she was struck by the light and simplicity of shape and form in the Arctic Ocean, she fell in love with the Polar Regions. Since that first trip, Mackey has made a career painting the Arctic (and recently the Antarctic), speaking about her experiences, and working with teens in Arctic communities. In addition to celebrating color and space and place, each canvas makes a statement, says Mackey.

“To me, the Arctic landscape is like life drawing because the trees are removed to reveal the form of the planet. I love the shapes of mountains, glaciers, and icebergs,” explains Mackey.  “When I came back from my first expedition, I started painting larger with more simplified shapes. The more I learned about the Polar Regions, the more I began focusing on telling a story.”

Mackey’s second trip north came in 2004 when she co-led a group of artists to Baffin Island for a sketching trip. It was on this trip that the Arctic Quest was formed.


“The impact of climate change really hit me when I took the group Arctic Quest north in 2006 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Northwest Passage. Through working with International Polar Year scientists, I knew climate change was happening, but seeing the changes since my first trip north in 2002 made me realize the extent,” Mackey says. ”After seeing how much 25 artists from Arctic Quest could accomplish, I realized the power in numbers.”

In 2007 Mackey represented polar artists as the art liaison to the International Polar Year International office.

“It became apparent that many artists from around the world were working individually and could benefit from the support and exposure a group could offer," she says. "Scientists were discovering very important information, but the public didn’t fully understand the impact of what the scientists were sharing with us. We felt that artists could help get the message out.

Mackey founded Polar Artists Group (PAG) to spread the word. The coalition also helps the artist members.

“A central resource location for artists to promote their work makes it easier for researchers, reporters, and writers to use these artworks in expressing the effects of climate change on the Polar Regions and our planet.”

The motto for Polar Artists Group was "Scientists discover, artists interpret – together we can open the eyes of the world." The group lost funding and recently went dormant, but Mackey hopes to resuscitate it soon. PAG artists aimed to create artwork that conveys accurate scientific information that informs the public about the impacts of climate change.

Antarctica Ptg
Antarctica Ptg

The PAG, established with funding from the International Polar Year, quickly grew to a group of 40 artists who communicated their passion for the Arctic through various mediums. Professional painters, photographers, video artists, writers, musicians, and a fashion designer acted as ambassadors to the cold, white north.

The group served as a resource for artists seeking funding and partnerships with scientists. PAG provided artists online gallery space so researchers, galleries, art collectors, and reporters could contact them directly for information on their artwork.

Today Mackey is Art Director for the Canadian-based, Students on Ice, which offers educational experiences to high school students in the Polar Regions. The award-winning expeditionary program includes scientists from a variety of natural and social disciplines, journalists and writers, musicians, filmmakers, and artists who lecture, provide hands-on activities and workshops exploring polar-focused educational themes.

“I try to encourage the students to use their unique experiences and look around them for a story they would like to tell through art. I am always interested in learning more about their oral history and try to encourage them to be proud of who they are and portray this in their art. I’m pleased to see more and more Inuit students proud of their traditions and happy to share them,” says Mackey.

Mackey’s next project is an exhibition entitled “Polar Decayed—Journey to Hope” in which she shares what she’s learned over a decade of Arctic expeditions. So far, confirmed venues include the Legislative Assembly in Iqaluit and the Aurora Cultural Centre in Ontario.

“This exhibition will be visual, but also have a strong educational component which includes a catalogue, scientific facts, and audio interviews. I’m gradually learning more about how the drastic changes in the Polar Regions are impacting the rest of the world and am experimenting with incorporating these ideas into my artwork. I think it is important to begin with awareness, but we also have to find hope.”--Marcy Davis

For more information contact Linda Mackey at linda@polarartists.com.