The designers of Raleigh’s latest public art project are enlisting help from outside the creative class, asking volunteers of all ages to take a hands-on role in creating the piece.
Lee Cherry, Matt McConnell and Marc Russo got a commission from Raleigh leaders for a recycling-themed art installation at the city’s new Wilders Grove Solid Waste Services Facility. They’re using materials like plastic grocery bags, old T-shirts and cereal boxes to fill a 200-square-foot wall at the entrance to the center, where Raleigh’s trash services are headquartered.
“The theory behind the piece is to enlighten the public that visits the waste facility about recycling,” McConnell said.
The three artists aren’t working alone. They’ve held a series of Saturday build days this summer, inviting a diverse crowd to their studio space in the Boylan Heights neighborhood to help assemble the piece. Nearly 100 people have taken part so far, piecing together chain links from soda can tabs and cutting up donated materials.
It’s a rare opportunity for nonartists to get involved in the creative process.
“They get to see what it means to go through the process of composing a piece of artwork,” McConnell said, adding that he estimates 600 hours of volunteer time has gone into the effort already. “It’s really taken a team effort, and the public has been a big part of the team.”
Volunteers say they’ve quickly become fans of the project. “I love the fact that he’s using all these recycled materials and materials that would otherwise go to waste,” said Jeannette Selvaggi as she cut up an old green polo shirt Saturday with help from her 7-year-old daughter, Sophia.
The artists have at least three more public build days before the installation goes up in October. And their goal is to keep the piece interactive for everyone who sees it.
Russo and Cherry are designing a video kaleidoscope that will serve as a centerpiece, allowing visitors to turn a wheel filled with bottle caps and other recyclables and watch the jumble of household waste generate colorful designs.
Cherry said the goal is for the piece to be dynamic – community groups could even remove a panel from the wall and redesign it with new materials.
“It’s something that can change over time,” he said.
A trash and recycling facility might seem like an odd place for public art. But Raleigh built the facility – located at a former landfill off New Bern Avenue in East Raleigh – in 2012 to serve as an educational tool. School groups and other visitors learn about recycling, composting and rainwater collection. The building itself was constructed using recycled glass and other environmentally friendly materials.
Raleigh leaders agreed in 2009 to set aside a half-percent of each city construction budget for public art, which created a budget of about $30,000 for the Wilders Grove facility. McConnell, Cherry and Russo plan to unveil the installation this fall, and they expect their volunteer art assistants will be among the first to check out their work.
“I don’t think any of us understood how amazing it was going to be,” McConnell said.