The Art of Trash: Student Art in the Go Green Garden
By guest blogger: Jocelyn Coulter
There is a new piece of art in the Zoo… and it’s made entirely out of trash. It’s fitting that we would place it in the Go Green Garden, but there is more to this story than just trash and “going green.”
A little history…
As a part of my Masters through Miami University’s Global Field Program in partnership with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, I have focused the past 2.5 years on how art can play a significant role in environmental conservation. This past summer, I was fortunate enough to work with a handful of high school students, from four different high schools, who were willing to come together in the name of art and the environment. We worked through a pilot course that offered a new way to learn about the environment through art. Aside from some cool art activities and discussions, the most amazing result of this course was the heightened interest of two young ladies from Roger Bacon High School, who both aspired to take some of what they learned back to their peers.
The start of a project…
By the time fall came around I was busy again planning an art installation for the Zoo with the Planeteers of Roger Bacon High School. We began with an inward-focused research project where students (and their teacher) recorded everything that they disposed of over the course of four weeks. As the weeks went by, the participants began to recognize patterns and come up with ideas of how they could have a greater positive impact on the environment through the choices they made in purchasing and disposing of various everyday items. The research portion of this project provided the participants with an eye-opening experience, making what is normally unseen and forgotten, apparent and linked to responsibility, that being, our trash. This enhanced awareness gave the participants not only fuel to make changes in their own habits but also a desire to share what they had learned with their peers.
The opportunity to create an art display for the Zoo’s Go Green Garden became the perfect vehicle for these students to have a voice and work towards empowering their community to take action for the betterment of our natural environment.
A voice through art…
The participants wanted to show items that often end up in the landfill and communicate accurate information about how one could keep them from ending up in the landfill. They worked through a couple of designs and decided on an interactive piece involving recycled cabinet doors and a mosaic-mural. Each door was decorated with different items and categorized by the following topics: Landfill, Recycle, Caps/Bags/Bottle Caps, Chip & Candy Wrappers, Bottled plastic vs. Tubs, Cell phone recycling, E-Waste, Compost, Repurpose/Reuse. On the reverse side of each door, they compiled facts about those items to share with Zoo visitors. For example, yogurt containers, which cannot be recycled at Rumpke’s Recycling facility, are turned into toothbrushes when collected by Whole Foods. Website links and QR codes were also included to offer visitors greater ease at accessing information to aid them as to how they choose to dispose of their consumerism by-products.
Behind the doors is the mural, made of many small pieces of trash (following with the idea that every little bit of effort counts), depicting a colorful scene including harmony between humans and nature. With a river, rolling hills, wildlife, homes, a cityscape, solar panels, and mountains, the participants did not want to show humans versus nature. They wanted to express that we are part of it and our actions do make a difference.
The cabinet doors are arranged such that some of the mural is visible through a couple gaps. The participants liked this idea as from a viewer’s perspective they might first see all the doors covered with what looks like trash, yet behind them is a colorful picture. The viewer may then be enticed to open the doors to not only reveal the entire image, but also all of the information on the back of the doors about the items on the front.
A fun video was created throughout the development of this art project, allowing you, the viewer, a closer look into the creation of this artwork. The video can be accessed by a QR code located next to the exhibit.
I would really like to encourage you to visit this art exhibit in the Go Green Garden to see in what ways the art display might resonate in your life. Every little bit of effort will make a difference. I am delighted to also have witnessed the involvement of so many people across the Zoo as well as within the Planeteers group throughout this project. This planet that we call home is a home to all of us as a world community. Art is just one way to bring people closer to each other and the environment, so that together, we can ensure a brighter future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.