Story and Photos • Sonya Mann
You could find the answer at the Richmond Art Center’s Upcycle event April 25, in which local artists — rather than recycling trash — focused on upgrading throwaway materials into new and beautiful creations.
Volunteers at the event, now in its third year, staffed arts-and-crafts stations where they encouraged more than 300 attendees to fold-form copper pendants, make wild paper hats or crowns, paint old vinyl records, decorate a sidewalk trash can with pottery shards, weave rugs out of rags, turn T-shirts into quilts, and more.
“The idea behind Upcycle is using recycled material to create original works of art,” said Richard Ambrose, executive director of the art center. Free and kid-friendly, Upcycle hosted activities appropriate for various ages. Parents and children milled around, moving back and forth from outdoor tables to indoor workshops at the event.
“It’s an opportunity for parents to do interactive activities with their kids,” Ambrose said.
Local artist Bre Gipson staffed one of the outdoor stations that specialized in assemblage — a three-dimensional form of collage. She displayed her fantastical, ocean-evoking sculptures, fashioned from industrial foam, plastic, and miscellaneous doodads, as examples of the Upcycle ethos: using trash headed for a landfill to create something new and exciting, whether practical or simply visually pleasing.
Gipson’s sculptures demonstrated the joy of the form; bright, shimmery colors and knobby bumps that appealed to curious fingers. She encouraged participants to touch her creations, and children working at her table were quick to take advantage of the opportunity — a significant departure from the museum rules that they might have encountered at a less interactive event.
Inside the building, artist Ed Lay instructed the copper jewelry workshop. Lee Micheaux and her fourth-grade daughter Mariella used popsicle sticks to work the thin metal into leaf-shaped pendants.
“The volunteers are so wonderful — they work so hard,” said Micheaux, who had attended every annual Upcycle event since the first in 2013. She praised the consistent creativity of the art center’s activities — echoing the sentiment of many other parents, who said they were excited to have their kids taught how a little effort and enthusiasm can give easily discarded material a second life.