There is a place where the Santa Monica Bay is clean, where sea lions and whales, mackerel and octopuses cavort in pristine waters.
It's the Santa Monica Place shopping center, where from the brush strokes of children and the elderly, men and women, artists and amateurs, a wondrous new bay has sprung--on an 80-foot-long mural depicting a teeming underwater panorama from Malibu to Palos Verdes.
Since Aug. 1, more than 195 people have donated to the environmental group Heal the Bay for the privilege of painting a porpoise or a prickly sea urchin on the huge 12-panel mural, said directing artist Ruth San Pietro.
San Pietro, who lives in Venice, counted the artists who have worked on the mural simply by walking the length of the work, pointing to a particular fish or seashell, and remembering who painted what.
San Pietro and artist Chick Bragg sketched the outline of the mural onto the panels.
Anyone can walk into the Heal the Bay Museum on the second floor of Santa Monica Place downtown, pay $10 ($5 for children) and pick something on the mural to paint. The brushes and paints are supplied.
San Pietro, who supports herself by teaching painting to children and senior citizens, said she works so closely with the mural artists that "I remember every single person who has come in to paint."
"These girls were in here yesterday and they came back today with a song," she said, nodding toward 12-year-old Lea Hartzell and her friend, 11-year-old Jennifer Soumakian, who were putting the finishing touches to fish they had started the day before.
Lea and Jennifer, teammates on a synchronized swimming team, agreed to sing "Heal the Bay" for a visitor.
Its lyrics were sad:
All the seals in the sea
Are very sad to be
In an ocean where there is
Here I come to save the bay,
Mighty Mackerel's on his way.
Saving fish from pollution,
And from trashy gook.
Lea and Jennifer just happened by the museum, with its exhibits on Santa Monica Bay wildlife, while shopping and decided to paint. They said they enjoyed it so much they came back the next day.
When asked why she was painting, Lea said: "Well, the animals are dying and we don't want them to die.
"I heard on the news that, you know, the balloons people set off land in the water and dolphins choke on them."
Jennifer said she liked seeing the mural's healthy fish. "I wish it was like this in real life," she said.
Venice resident Gina Koper, a 35-year-old art history student, said she has come back three times to paint on the mural.
"I think it's so beautiful," she said. "Even though a lot of different people have contributed to the work, it looks like it's been done by one professional artist."
Painting the mural is also relaxing, she said.
"You don't have a concept of time, which is the best thing in our busy world to forget about," she said.
Heal the Bay President Dorothy Green said she is pleased with the success of the project.
"I think the mural is an absolutely gorgeous piece of artwork," she said. "And I think it's a tremendous opportunity to participate in a community event."
She said San Pietro has played a big part in the mural's success.
"She puts a brush in (someone's) hand and away they go," Green said. "She works so well with people."
But the hero of the success story may be Santa Monica Place, which approached Green's group with the offer of free space in the center for a summertime museum.
The center has used Heal the Bay as the centerpiece for its summer promotion, flying banners and buying newspaper advertisements, Green said.
The mural's 12 panels will be auctioned off at the end of September to raise funds for the group's efforts, which include lobbying and education efforts aimed at cleaning up Santa Monica Bay.