Laura Coleman travelled to Bolivia to work in a conservation project as part of a three-month travel journey.

Six years later, she was still flying back and forth from the South American country. She’d come across a refuge for animals sold on the black market from circuses and zoos and felt compelled to help.

“I studied art history and was going to do a PhD. I thought I’d go travelling first and ended up in Bolivia. I stumbled across this refuge with pumas and jaguars. They are the most beautiful animals. It was an easy decision to stay.”

She was in Santa Cruz, in deep jungle territory, which makes a challenging country for Westerners even trickier. But she fell in love with the refuge and the eastern Amazon.

“Once you cross the border from Brazil or Argentina it changes very quickly. The people have a different way of thinking to the rest of South America. But once you get to know them they are wonderful and warm.”

Coleman grew up in Ditching. She has now moved back to the area. Her latest project is a charity which mixes her love for art with her passion for nature.

ONCA gallery in St George’s Place, Brighton, is a “space for people to tell stories about the environment”.

It stems from the feelings Coleman had every time she returned to urban South East England, where she felt disconnected from nature and the environment.

Art is the means by which she hopes to help people realign.

“I came back permanently because I wanted to engage people with the environment.

“Often we get lots of facts about climate change and about what is happening with the environment and it is very difficult to process all those facts.

“I know I shut down and I can’t listen. You feel a sense of not being able to do anything about it. But I think art and creativity can really help to get people thinking about these ideas and how they can make a difference.”

ONCA, which translates from Portuguese to English as jaguar, also stand for One Network for Conservation and the Arts.

To get people through the door and to break the idea that galleries are staid spaces with uncomfortable silences and overbearing proprietors, Coleman organises events to complement the exhibitions.

As such, the 37 works on show in Our Time In Ice are merely a backdrop for a series of events including a poetry evening tomorrow with writer and artist Nancy Campbell, whose How To Say I Love You In Greenlandic prints are in the show.

She will be joined by West Sussex Poet Laureate Hugh Dunkerley and John McCullough, who penned The Frost Fairs.

Other events include iced-themed storytelling with Abbie Palache and Aine Walsh (March 23) and White Bear Review by Feral Theatre (April 10), who also made Funeral For Lost Species which premiered at Brighton Fringe in 2011.

Susan Richardson will perform her poetry show Arcticulate, inspired by the ecology and heritage of the polar environment (May 11).

The brief for Our Time In Ice was creative responses to the changing Arctic landscape.

“We chose ice because felt it so present and current at the moment and is emblematic of climate change, which affects all of us.”

It features a one-off commission by Scott of the Antarctic’s granddaughter, Dafila Scott, who also contributed to the gallery’s first show, Ghosts Of Gone Birds. The mixed media collage has a polar bear walking through the arctic.

There is also work by David Buckland, the director of Cape Farewell, the international not-for-profit organisation based in the Science Museum in London.

The organisation, which along with The Arctic Circle sponsored the exhibition, helped secure work by Chris Wainwright, head of Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Colleges at the University of the Arts London, singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock and Michèle Noach.

Coleman’s highlights include Nancy Campbell’s prints with the fascinating Greenlandic language and Dairo Vargas’s Gold Dust.

“I think it’s beautiful, I love the way by painting on metal you get the reflection, you look from different angles and the paint seems to melt almost.

“It is very evocative, it feels like the glacier and ice is disappearing into the canvas.”

Sculptor Alison Bell’s work is another reason to visit. On The Brink is a polar bear standing on the edge of a precipice.

“I think that represents the whole exhibition,” says Coleman. “We’re perched on the edge something we are not sure about…”

  • Proceeds from the show will be sent to a children’s home in Greenland called Uummannaq.
  • Our Time In Ice is at the ONCA Gallery, St George’s Place, Brighton, until May 31. Open noon to 7pm, and 11am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday. Free, call 01273 958291 or visit