Karla Klay is the founding director of Artist Boat. She has over 25 years of experience in arts and environmental education. Artist Boat was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in 2003 by a board of directors representing artists and scientists from universities, government, and the private sector in Galveston, Harris, and Dallas Counties and gathering over 150 years of educational experience between 9 board members. Since inception over 100,000 participants have engaged in Artist Boat’s unique Eco-Art Programs each receiving a minimum of 4 hours of hands-on, place-based, and experiential learning formed in the context of marine ecosystems and coastal margins of the Texas coast. The budget of has grown from one of approximately $65,000 in 2003 to $1.3 million in 2016. The staff of experts delivering programming and stewarding conserved land has grown from 2 – 13 in thirteen years.
Through her leadership 48,000 underserved youth and members of the public have paddled our estuary, restored 53+ acres of coastal habitats, created public art interpreting coastal ecosystems on 50 campuses and the Galveston Seawall, conserved 600 acres of land forming the Coastal Heritage Preserve, and created habitats on eight campuses. Participants are empowered to educate others, trained to conserve or restore natural resources, and changed to protect the biodiversity of our Gulf.
Raised in the Florida Keys by parents who developed the technology to ship live sharks all over the world to large educational aquariums and with neighbors for dolphins of the Dolphin Research Center she has a very unique childhood with sharks in the backyard and dolphins as childhood playmates. This shaped an individual that has an extreme love of coastal margins, the marine environment, and the Gulf. Recent events have shaped a “leader” working in environmental education that is deeply concerned with preserving coastal ecosystems that will create a more resilient coastal environment for citizens and wildlife. Karla proudly served on City of Galveston Hurricane Ike Long-Term Recovery Committee. Two of the recovery projects approved by the City adopted by Artist Boat are to acquire and preserve 600+acres on the west end of Galveston Island (Coastal Heritage Preserve) and to restore ecosystems from the beach to the bay damaged by Ike (Habitat Restoration Adventure). Artist Boat has procured $8 million dollars for land acquisition and the Habitat Restoration Adventure Program has restored 10+acres of coastal prairie and 50+ acres of sand dunes to date.
Karla Klay holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Southern Methodist University and a Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M University in Marine Biology. She completed the Yale Conservation Finance Course on scholarship in 2011. She completed the Rice University Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives in 2013. Karla was selected by the National Audubon Society in 2012 as a national leader receiving the TogetherGreen National Leaders Fellowship Award for her role in conservation on the Gulf coast. And was awarded the Gulf Guardian Award in 2013 by the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program for her contribution to the Gulf of Mexico communities in the field of environmental and place-based learning.