The Joe Center for the Arts has hosted three events in its short stint on Reid Ave. but based on the crowd gathered at the closing reception for its recent “Turtles and Trash” exhibit, the space is taking root as a venue for residents to celebrate creativity while opening up conversation about issues affecting the community and coastline.

The highlight of the evening was an opportunity to paint paper-mache turtle sculptures, created entirely out of recycled cardboard boxes by one of the many classes offered since the start of the show.

The activity was led by Tallahassee black light artist Perdita Ross and came to life on the sidewalk of Port St. Joe on Friday night.

Ross conducts similar events at her Railroad Square studio and got involved in the show when she met Joan Matey at a Fishy Fashion Show, in Carrabelle.

“I’ve been an environmental person for a long time. This started as a box-painting project,” she explained. “It gets deconstructed and made into collage. That’s how the shapes come to be …Art makes you look at things differently.”

The exhibit’s impact, at the height of the summer sea turtle nesting season, rippled out from The Joe.

“This is an amazing, and inspiring venue,” said Jessica Swindall, volunteer coordinator at the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol. “Hanging this art was helpful in getting the word out (about plastics in our oceans).

“It is also perfect timing, with the placement of the turtle walk markers around town and the beach restoration project going on this month. It’s been a jam-packed summer. We are hot and heavy on hatching season now, plus, relocating 134 nests.”

Nancy Jones, curator of the show, first saw and fell in love with the three-dimensional art of Apalachicola artist Beth Appleton, also displayed at “Trash Meets the Sea” held last year.

It was staged at the Apalachicola Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) that tests micro plastic as part of ongoing research.

Other participants in the show included scientists from Plastic Free Gulf Coast of Biloxi.

“It’s really wonderful the community is so small,” said Nancy Jones, who moved to the area from Atlanta, where she founded Blue Heron Nature Preserve. “I love the coastal environment, plus people are asking for positive change.”

The exhibit provided stark reminders about current issues facing Gulf County, including Leave No Trace.

“What’s great is the emphasis on trash gathered from the beach,” said Charles Gaddy, who works with Swindall. “People have to understand that Leave No Trace is not just about turtles, but people, too. A child could easily be injured.”

The connection between people and this exhibit reached further with something of a product line that emerged during the show.

There was a push to get paper straws into restaurants and retail stores. Jones, who a regional representative for the company making the straws, reported she has eight area customers.

“We would not have any if we’d not started talking about it,” she said.

The Joe also sold out of canvas tote bags,totalling$1,500 in sales.

“I would love to see this become an environmental town,” Jones said.

Ross is excited the turtles might next be displayed at the Corinne Costin Gibson Memorial Public Library in Port St. Joe.

“I like that what we create can have a further life,” she said.

The Recollections of Eastpoint’s Cat Pointe Music entertained and had a number of attendees up and dancing.

The Joe Center for the Arts is a nonprofit funded by membership starting at $30. For information contact info@thejoecenter.org. Its next show will feature textiles in November.