“From Debris to Art” was a program created through MDIBL’s Art Meets Science initiative and made possible by the generous support of the Onion Foundation. The project encourages participants to collect marine debris, log their observations and actively engage their creativity to create a unique piece of personal artwork. You can read more about the project here.
I first learned about From Debris to Art from my son, who is based at The Wilds wildlife conservation center in Cumberland, Ohio. The From Debris to Art project caught my attention because I already use a lot of recycled materials in my teaching. I decided that the project would be a good fit for my students.
Half of the students adopted the theme of protecting marine life, but others chose to use the debris materials to express their own interests. This opened up the opportunity to talk about how sometimes the materials inspire the art while other times, the idea comes first and artists select materials that will help them achieve their vision. We decided that Fridays would be “Debris Art Days” and the students seemed to look forward to Fridays, knowing that art-making was guaranteed.
I had some concerns about safely collecting debris because of the pandemic, but also because I work exclusively with students who are blind or have severe visual impairments and I need to make sure that the things I give them to touch and hold won’t hurt them. So I adapted the “collecting” element to focus on the kinds of debris students might encounter in their homes, communities, and in our own school setting. The students brought in things like unused straws or empty plastic containers from their lunches. I also contributed debris from my home and I was surprised how quickly they added up. After a few weeks, we were ready to lay things out on tables so that the students could select pieces that they wanted to use in their personal projects. Then the fun began…and the creativity started to flow!
(Click on each image to enlarge and read the Artist Statement)
As a teacher, I wanted my students to participate in this project because it provided an opportunity for them to engage as artists in the “real world.” The fact that we had to gather their source of materials from things that would normally be thrown away challenged them to make more creative and deliberate choices about how to represent the things they wanted to show in their art. Perhaps because they were working with “trash,” the students allowed themselves to be less concerned about making something look perfect, and as a result, their work became more expressive. Art-making is a very personal process, but it’s also a means of communicating something to others. I wanted my students to have the experience of creating an artwork that is uniquely their own and being able to share it with people beyond the scope of our school setting.