Chris Barela
Chris Barela has been passionate about zoos, museums and aquariums his entire life. He considers it an honor to be able to contribute his talents to help convey animal and habitat conservation and education. 
Chris’ early background in commercial graphics and theatrical set design gives clarity and dramatic flair to his exhibits. Sculptor, illustrator and model builder, his artistic digital skills and photo-realistic conceptual work is uniquely vibrant in bringing your proposed projects to life for builders and sponsors.

Chris began designing for zoos and aquariums in 2002 when he created interpretive signs, murals and exhibits for The Living Planet Aquarium’s first location in the Salt Lake City Gateway Plaza. His major exhibits have included: Journey to South America, The Penguin Research Station, and Animal Superheroes. 
In 2011-2013 Chris served as Art Director for the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, a  136,000 square foot aquarium in Draper, Utah. He conceptualized and oversaw the design of all six galleries with a keen focus on the ‘story’ being told as guests moved through the exhibits. 
Chris also designed the Amazon Rainforest Gallery’s horticultural landscaping, including a two-story high jungle environment with free-flight birds and animals. The Aquarium’s animal information and species signs were also created by Chris with the guest’s experience in mind - creating a vibrant and inviting look via a digital frame system.
In 2013, Chris worked with the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, offering consulting and creating concept art for their new Delta Stingray Exhibit, and future otter, paddlefish, and salt water exhibits. He also created several interactives for their galleries and touring displays. 
For Bearizona, a drive thru animal park outside the Grand Canyon, Chris designed the theme for their species signs along with other exhibit concepts. 
Chris has worked with the Wild Nature Institute’s African Giants program to create environmental education posters that are used in Tanzanian classrooms to educate local people about the importance of their native wildlife. This program will continue to grow in collaboration with the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens in Palm Springs. 
Chris is currently working with the Oklahoma Aquarium to create art, thematic signs, branding and displays for their various galleries, including the new Polynesian Reef Exhibit, which features animals and culture from the Indo-Pacific region. 
He’s also creating designs for the Santa Ana Zoo’s Amazon’s Edge exhibit, which will open in 2023, featuring giant otters and primates from Amazonia. This new exhibit will involve guests in a very active role - as animal researchers and observers, chronicling their observations in a database. The interactive exhibits and interpretive signs will help guests explore, not just the animals on exhibit, but the ecosystem that they inhabit and their relationships to each other and the plants and peoples that share it with them. 

Part of the new Amazon’s Edge exhibit will feature a Santa Ana River conservation mini-exhibit, with a water table, colorful signs, murals and hands-on interactives. Chris and the zoo are working with local water districts to educate guests in the importance of our local water ways.
Most recently Chris has been designing the interpretive signs for the new Angkor Wildlife & Aquarium in Cambodia. This has been a wonderful challenge presenting the opportunity to create and tell stories about the unique stories of the people and wildlife of Mekong River Delta and Gulf of Thailand. 

Back to Top