VOLUNTEER: The wild road to Pacific Wild

Apr 11, 2016
Michaela Montaner

There are a handful of Pacific Wild's images amidst the 100 paintings Marisa has painted since January 1. See if you can pick them out at www.thiswildroad.com.

Demand for volunteer positions working with Pacific Wild definitely outstrips supply and all too often we find that we are declining kind offers for support. Usually it’s because we don’t have a position that matches the skillset that is offered, other times it’s because we can't commit time or resources to supervising someone or their projects, and other times still we meet terrific people with incerdible energy and ability but have no idea how to put their skills to use.

Enter Marisa Pahl, a Vancouver artist and one of our self-appointed volunteers. 

If Marisa had approached us and said "I'm an artist and want to help out - what can I do?" we probably would have thanked her and added her to a list of people to contact down the line when we had an idea or need for an artist. 

Instead, as something of a New Year's resolution, Marisa decided to align her daily painting practice with her wish to raise awareness and funds for Pacific Wild. The project, called “This Wild Road”, has Marisa painting a (tiny!) watercolour every day for 100 days. Each is inspired by an image submitted by ‘everyday people’ sharing small things they do to lessen their impact on the environment. Every watercolour was auctioned off on Marisa’s Instagram account and the final paintings are being auctioned off this week. She coordinates all of it through her own Instagram and sends us occaisional updates on how the project is progressing. We've spoken on the phone once, exchanged a handful of emails, and that's it.

Marisa figured out early on how busy our small team was, so when she designed the proejct she planned it in such a way that she wouldn't be relying on us for it to advance. For example, she struck a great balance between speaking about Pacific Wild and not for Pacific Wild. If she was speaking for Pacific Wild, we would have had to review post after post, and probably would have slowed her down. Instead, she spoke about Pacific Wild - how she came to know us, why she values our work - and generally about her commitment to protecting the environment in her day-to-day life. She also worked independently to raise awareness on social media and the news - we were able to chime in with the occaisional post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, but otherwise it was all her -- and she was so very successful.

Meet Marisa Pahl, our self-appointed fundraiser/advocate/artist

We caught up with Marisa for her reflections on the project, volunteering with Pacific Wild, and what's next for her art and her volunteerism. 

We treasure volunteers like Marisa - organized, dedicated self-starters who play to their strengths in designing and fulfilling their volunteer role.

Why did you decide to start this project?

Last year I started to read again for pleasure… weirdly, that meant some fairly intense environmental books! The Oil Man and the Sea by Arno Kopecky, The David Suzuki Reader by (surprise!) David Suzuki, and Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. Something clicked for me. I had always worked to infuse my creative work with more meaning but this project emerged as a way for me to take real action towards that goal.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a lawyer or a marine biologist. For me, those careers were smart, caring people fighting to make the world a better place. I loved art but I didn't think I could make the impact I wanted as an artist. Now my perspective has changed - I'm building a foundation of giving into my creative practise and striving to make my work a spark for environmental conversations.

And... a confession ... (as a relatively introverted person) I wanted a reason to forge friendships with environmental advocates I admire. A reason to reach out and ask for help. The interactive nature of this project made that a necessary part of my daily life for a few months! It was just agonizing at first. Now, I still feel giddy when I get emails from strangers who I think are incredible human beings. Like Ian McAllister.

What has the response been like so far?

Completely unreal. Just so positive.

The night before I started the project (on New Years Eve 2015) I remember thinking, "Am I really doing this?” and “Who am I to ask people to bid on my work?” and “Will this even work? I only have a few hundred followers!"

I had to go in with no expectations because I've never done something like this before.

Today, my brain overflows with gratitude for all the people who share feedback with me and connect others to the project... all the people who submit such inspiring stories and images… and (in particular) all the mischief makers on Instagram starting friendly bidding wars!

A bidding war is happening as we speak on Marisa's latest watercolour of an Ian McAllister photo. Click the image to go to Instagram to see for yourself.

What advice do you have for people who want to support an organization in a big way but don’t necessarily have skills the organization needs or the time to volunteer?

While time and money are great ways to give if you can, there is a third way that is vastly underrated: giving attention - in a thorough and intentional way.

This can be as simple as seeking out weekly news updates on a cause you support – really building awareness in yourself of the issue and how you and your actions are connected to it. It can also be about finding voices who honestly represent the different parts of an issue you care deeply about and helping them spread the word – whether in conversation, social media, or by attending events and bringing your friends along.

Listening is one of the most supportive things we can do as individuals. Educating ourselves, finding exceptional sources of information, sharing knowledge and starting candid conversations - these are powerful tools for supporting organizations and places that matter.

What has your favourite painting been so far? Were you surprised by which pieces did well in the auction?

Two favourites - both mountains.

One is from a person I've never met, of the Whistler backcountry. It looked hard to paint but it was an effortless process. And I adore the painting. That doesn't always happen! Often I can't appreciate the easy ones as much. I realized my brain understands snow in a complex and intimate way. It's magical but familiar. It made me realize that I need to spend more time in snowy mountains - that's where I feel exhilarated and peaceful, all at once.

The other one is from my childhood friend Sandy who I haven't seen in years and years. We grew up skiing and backpacking together with our families. She sent me so many photos of snow and skiing, it was almost impossible to choose. Then after I painted one, I would get upset when I saw a new one that was great! What stood out to me though was Sandy's story. In Prince George where she lives now, there's not always time in a normal week for creative and crafty pursuits like sewing or building or painting. Her and her partner made this connection that skiing is actually a creative flow state - our moves on the landscape create beautiful lines, like marks on a canvas. There is a grace in skiing and snowboarding that is a creative process in itself. This resonated with me in a big way.

I am surprised every single day by what goes down in the auctions! My powers of prediction are limited because I never know how a painting will speak to people on an individual basis.


One of Marisa's favourite paintings to come out of This Wild Road, this image was also a crowd favourite netting $155.Volunteering works best when both sides get something out of the arrangement. Pacific Wild benefits from the exposure of being mentioned in the news articles and social media posts your work has generated and, of course, from the funds you raise. What did you get out of this experience?

For me, an amazing part of being an artist is that I get to design my own version of "success." Giving generously is something that I want to be part of my daily life. This project meant I could donate $5000 to Pacific Wild that I never would have been able to afford otherwise. That is pretty special.

There's more though. On a personal level, this was also an exercise in accountability. I desperately wanted to succeed in a 100-day creative journey - so I had to make it bigger than myself. Choosing an organization that I deeply admire and making a public commitment helped motivate me on a daily basis to keep going.

If you were going to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Well (spoiler alert) I am already planning my next 100-day journey!

It's been a transformative experience and I can't wait to dream up my next one. What would I do differently? I might choose a more specific topic - like have all the photos inspired by a specific region or theme. It could be fun to make the paintings even more miniature next time ... just to keep it reaaaally challenging! Oh ya, and more process videos.

How can people learn more about the project and your work?

The best place to see the project unfolding in the final days (and the only way to place a bid on a painting) is in on Instagram. You can see everything online even if you don't have an Instagram account. There is also a project website where you can see all of the paintings together along with links to interviews and such. If you'd like to receive an invite to the exhibition later this year, make sure you sign up for updates by leaving your email (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Any last words?

Thank you to everyone for reading! I'd love to hear from you personally if you have any questions, photos or wilderness stories to share. You can find me on Instagram or email me at studio (at) marisapahl (dot) com.

Want to volunteer? Check out our current volunteer postings here.

Not seeing anything that’s a fit? Have your own idea of how you can help out? Make sure you’re on the list for the next time we post an opportunity to join the team. You can also send us a short note clearly outlining what you’re interested in doing and what support you would need from us to pull it off. We’re most inclined to opt-in to projects that are well thought out, mission-aligned, low-maintenance, and that target people or community that may not yet be familiar with Pacific Wild.

Donate. Your contributions help build our capacity to advocate effectively for the Great Bear Rainforest - and that includes recruiting, managing, and retaining a strong team of volunteers and staff. Please give generously here.

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