Chris Barela is a highly passionate individual with a lifelong dedication to zoos, museums, and aquariums. His artistic talents contribute significantly to the communication of animal and habitat conservation and education. With a background in commercial graphics and theatrical set design, Chris brings clarity and dramatic flair to his exhibits. As a sculptor, illustrator, and model builder, his artistic skills and digital expertise breathe life into proposed projects, captivating builders and sponsors.
Chris's journey in designing for zoos and aquariums began in 2002 when he created interpretive signs, murals, and exhibits for The Living Planet Aquarium's inaugural location in the Salt Lake City Gateway Plaza. His notable exhibits include Journey to South America, The Penguin Research Station, and Animal Superheroes. From 2011 to 2013, Chris served as the Art Director for the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper, Utah. He played a pivotal role in conceptualizing and overseeing the design of all six galleries, ensuring a captivating narrative for guests as they moved through the exhibits. Additionally, Chris designed the Amazon Rainforest Gallery's horticultural landscaping, featuring a stunning two-story high jungle environment with free-flight birds and animals. He also created the vibrant and inviting animal information and species signs using a digital frame system, enhancing the guest experience.
In 2013, Chris extended his expertise to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa. He provided consulting services and created concept art for the Delta Stingray Exhibit, as well as future exhibits featuring otters, paddlefish, and saltwater creatures. Chris also developed interactive displays for their galleries and touring exhibits. For Bearizona, an animal park located near the Grand Canyon, Chris designed captivating species signs and other exhibit concepts.
Chris's collaboration with the Wild Nature Institute's African Giants program showcases his commitment to environmental education. He created educational posters used in Tanzanian classrooms to raise awareness among local communities about the significance of native wildlife. This collaboration continues to flourish in partnership with the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens in Palm Springs.
Currently, Chris is engaged in a project with the Oklahoma Aquarium, where he is creating art, thematic signs, branding, and displays for various galleries. One notable project is the Polynesian Reef Exhibit, which showcases animals and culture from the Indo-Pacific region. Additionally, Chris is working on designs for the Santa Ana Zoo's upcoming exhibit, Amazon's Edge, set to open in 2023. This immersive exhibit will allow guests to actively participate as animal researchers and observers, documenting their observations in a database. The interactive exhibits and interpretive signs will not only showcase the animals but also highlight their ecosystem and the interconnections with plants and local communities.
Furthermore, the Santa Ana Zoo and Chris are collaborating with local water districts to create a Santa Ana River conservation mini-exhibit. This engaging exhibit will feature a water table, colorful signs, murals, and hands-on interactive elements, educating visitors about the importance of local waterways.
Most recently, Chris has taken on the challenge of designing interpretive signs for the new Angkor Wildlife & Aquarium in Cambodia. This endeavor offers an exceptional opportunity to tell captivating stories about the people and wildlife of the Mekong River Delta and the Gulf of Thailand.