Steve Richards bids on an art piece during the live auction portion of the Artists for Nature Gala on Friday, Sept. 2, 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

The Copper River Watershed Project (CRWP) raised more than $25,000 at its 25th anniversary Artists for Nature Gala event last weekend.

The event brought together original artworks for auction, with all proceeds going toward the CRWP programming.

Kate Morse, program director at the CRWP, reflected on the 25 years of work done by the organization and the appreciation for the fundraising efforts of the evening, calling it an “opportunity to be heroes of this intact, healthy watershed that supports the cultures, communities, and ways of life in this place.”

“I want to make sure you understand what your direct support here tonight means,” Morse said during the event on Sept. 2.

Special guests were in attendance who were a part of the CRWP’s beginning years, including founding executive director Kristin Carpenter. Ysband Brouwers and David Grimes of the Artists for Nature Foundation were also present and shared their thoughts on the intersection of nature and art during opening remarks.

Guests view original art pieces for auction at the Artists for Nature Gala event on Friday, Sept. 2, 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

“Art wins hearts and minds through the beauty and miracle of nature … but the greatest work of art is the Copper River itself, this living breathing miracle that we live in and get food from,” Grimes said.


Grimes continued on to speak to the beginnings of the CRWP and its importance in protecting salmon habitat in the early years following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The 1989 spill, one of the largest in United States history, dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound and affected more than 1,300 miles of coastline. 

The event was hosted in the Cordova Center atrium where more than 100 guests were able to mingle and enjoy beverages and passed appetizers while viewing the artwork up for auction. Live music for the evening was provided by Anita Smyke, Barry Beckett, Kathryn Eckman, Chelsea Mapili and Morgan Saiget. Food for the event was created by Chef Cesar Figueroa, who traveled to Cordova from Seattle especially to create the night’s culinary delights. Figueroa had visited Cordova previously with the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association and was inspired during his visit to create a locally inspired menu.

Passed appetizers included local salmon tartar with pine needle sour cream and rosemary ash, roasted mushrooms and goat cheese on a tart crust with burnt honey, and kombu cured salmon wrapped in seaweed. Simpson Bay Oyster Company provided fresh seasonal oysters for the evening that were prepared with an elderberry kombucha granita and served atop a bed of fresh moss. Wild venison and mushrooms used in the offerings were sourced from local harvesters and hunters. Finally, a variety of desserts were also created by Cordova residents that included high-bush cranberry tarts, rum balls, and chanterelle ice cream.

Steve Richards bids on an art piece during the live auction portion of the Artists for Nature Gala on Friday, Sept. 2, 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

Bidding was available online for a week preceding the event and ended in person at Saturday’s event. After the online bidding concluded a live auction of four pieces was held for those attending the event in person. The evening came to a crescendo as the final piece to be auctioned, “Waterlilies” by Andrea Rich, was won by local Cordova fishermen Peter Hoepfner for $2,000.

The CRWP plans to store the reminder of the artworks for future events of a similar style. 

Morse has been employed in some capacity with CRWP for the last 15 years and called to memory the many programs that she has witnessed grow over the years thanks to donations. She recalled how the organization has expanded from being a small space in the back of a real estate office to its now larger location on First Street, which even now is “bursting at the seams.”

Morse specifically cited the educational programming offered by the organization as one of the initiatives near to her heart, calling out by name the many people in the room whom she recognized as being former program participants and students, now grown up.

In comments that were reflective of much of the sentiment of the evening, Morse concluded with what watershed restoration work means to her personally.

“This week I have harvested fish, berries and mushrooms with my kids, and I hope these harvest traditions are carried on through my family and yours for generations to come,” she said.