Greenfield Community Art Project: HS Students Paint New Recycling Bins

August 20, 2010 -- If you have wished there were a handy place to throw away an empty can or bottle in the public areas of Greenfield, your wishes are about to come true.  Thanks to the art students at Greenfield High, Wisty Rorabacher, and a grant from the Greenfield Local Cultural Council, a community art project called Artfully Recycle was born. Our Town is now decorated with eye-catching toters that call out to you to recycle those cans and bottles.

What is a toter?  It is one of those oh-so-common large, polyurethane trash-can-like “things” on wheels intended to collect very specific items.   Trash goes in some, to be thrown into a landfill.  Paper goes in some, cardboard in others, and recyclable cans and bottles go in still others.  When we each do our part and throw the correct items in the correct toter, we all benefit.  We save money by reducing the amount of waste taken  to the landfill.  We save resources and money by recycling.  And we help keep Greenfield clean and inviting.  

All these reasons inspired eight art students from Greenfield High School to work with Wisty Rorabacher in Artfully Recycle.  Rorabacher, a retired high school teacher, has completed numerous community-based projects with her former students that won national awards for the school and their city. Upon hearing of the Greenfield Local Cultural Council art grants, she immediately applied because she knew that public art projects done by teenagers help build positive relations between young and older citizens, students and town officials. “I wanted to do a project combining my interest in art, education, community, and sustainability.”  

Artfully Recycle was a group effort.  Rorabacher heard about the grants through her participation in Artists of Franklin County, and she had learned about Greenfield’s commitment to sustainability through her work with the Greening Greenfield Energy Committee.  Sandy Shields and Janine Greaves, Greenfield Department of Public Works agreed to provide 10 large, green toters for the students to paint.  Shields and Greaves also agreed to judge the students’ designs to insure that the designs would attract attention and increase city-wide recycling.  Art teacher Debbie Prondecki welcomed the toters and the clutter of a group art activity into a section of her classroom.  She helped identify and guide responsible, talented students who were also committed to improving the environment.  

Prondecki and Rorabacher met with the students and talked about both recycling, as part of sustainability, and graphic design.  The students were challenged with articulating simple, clear messages about sustainability and communicating those ideas through original designs.  Twelfth grader Candace Bellville described her process: “When I began this project, I thought of all the instruments I used to make out of pan-tins, pots, and bottles, all recyclable products.  I wanted to use that idea to incorporate music with nature.  I really hope these bins catch people’s attention and get them to think more about recycling and their effect on nature.  Hopefully, this will be another big step in helping Greenfield become more green.”

As the project evolved, new challenges popped up.  The original designs were laid out on paper, but the toters have four sides, each with curves and indentations.  Should the original designs simply wrap around the toters?  But what if someone walking down Main Street sees only one side of a toter?  Solutions found.  Designs chosen.  Time to begin painting.  Enter new problems.  How could the designs be transferred to the toters?  Purchase of an art projector solved that problem - and this projector is now available for community use.  But, the dark green toters are polyurethane which resists paint or markers.  The students conducted weeks of research, contacting manufacturers, and paint and art supply companies.  From talking with store owners, they learned that yet another problem was to find a paint that would accommodate the flexible nature of the toters.  Students ran test trials of different markers and paints until they finally chose an acrylic paint.  The final challenge - how to keep the student-artists committed through all the frustrations, until the painting could finally begin?  Once one person began laying out her design on a toter, excitement returned and Artfully Recycle was truly underway.

Between January and April, Rorabacher worked in the high school art room for 3-4 hours, two days a week.  “It was important to be there with the students, sharing the process of art, of creativity.  Beyond asking one another for advice, celebrating one another’s progress, and simply being a listening adult, it was important to model putting in the time needed to complete a project.”  Rorabacher enjoyed checking in with the teacher, Prondecki, about the students and the high school in general.  “I hope this is only the beginning of my being involved with the high school.  There is so much positive energy and willingness to take action.  And I hope town officials and business owners will seek out public art projects that involve students of all ages.  Think of how delightful it would be to have school art throughout Greenfield!”

“This project was AWESOME!” said Janine Greaves, Recycling Coordinator for the Greenfield Department of Public Works. “The toter with mermaids on it is going to be at the Green River Swimming Area, and the one with sunflowers on it will be at the Town Hall. Others will be placed at strategic places around town, so please look for them, and honor the students by pitching in your bottles and cans!”

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