No Ocean is Wide Enough for spare parts–A Creative Reuse Tale between 2 Cities

Laura Carter_spare parts guest blogger
Laura Carter

Earlier this year Mary Elizabeth Cantu, founder and director of San Antonio’s budding organization spare parts, presented to educators at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) conference in Ft. Worth. She shared the spare parts vision of creative reuse education to a standing-room only crowd–which included Heather Williams, Executive Director of Art Explorium in Hawaii.

Williams subsequently sought advice from Cantu when planning an Art Explorium materials giveaway for teachers–similar to the summer extravaganza of free, reuse art materials organized by spare parts. In the exchange of ideas, Cantu also connected with Julie Uyeno-Pidot, a Masters degree student in the Public Administration program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Julie recently completed her practicum at the Art Explorium, helping them to locate and apply for grants in support of outreach projects. Julie and Heather graciously granted me an interview via email proving that spare parts‘ influence is transcending San Antonio and becoming a national resource.

What is Art Explorium? Did the concept begin with the idea of reuse and repurposing art materials or was that something that evolved?
Julie–Art Explorium is an arts education nonprofit located in the eclectic Kaimuki area. The organization’s mission is to provide a community art studio to nurture the creative potential in children.

Creative reuse has been a part of the nonprofit’s focus since its inception. Founders Taiji and Naoko Terasaki and Nathan Smith recognized the link between arts integration and environmental sustainability and sought donations of reusable materials from local businesses and the community. These materials are utilized in Art Explorium’s programs: open studio, during which children and their families can create projects at themed centers, or make whatever they please at the Trash-to-Treasure station; workshops that introduce youngsters to local artists and their techniques and special events.

Art Explorium (Honolulu) & & spare parts (San Antonio)
Art Explorium (Honolulu) & spare parts (San Antonio) met at the National Art Education Association 2013 conference in Ft. Worth. Their relationship continues to strengthen as they share creative reuse ideas and best practices in environmental sustainability.

I’m curious about the situation in Hawaii regarding recycling, landfills etc. with its limited space.
Julie–Limited space is definitely an issue here. The City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Environmental Services provides curbside collection of many recyclable items, including corrugated cardboard, metal cans and newspaper. However, it only accepts #1 and #2 plastic containers, since Hawaii currently lacks the facilities to recycle other types of plastic.

Along with curbside recycling, the City also runs the H-POWER program, which converts waste to electricity through incineration. Both of these programs have diverted over a million tons of waste from Hawaii’s landfills. Art Explorium supplies Hawaii’s community with another method of waste reduction by accepting donations of non-recyclable materials (e.g. magazines, plastic bottle caps and pressed cardboard) for use in its various programs.

How did you hear about the National Art Education Association conference in Ft. Worth?

Heather–I heard about the 2013 NAEA conference in Fort Worth because one of our board members, Taiji Terasaki, had attended it in 2012 before I was hired. Our founding board members were planning to create a non-profit art studio for kids and Taiji decided to attend the conference to get started in figuring out a future Art Explorium.

How did the spare parts presentation inspire you? What were the main take aways?

Heather–The spare parts presentation was really inspirational to me. It was by far the most memorable and helpful session I attended at the conference, partly because Mary is a great presenter and has awesome ideas to share, and partly because their program was much more similar to ours than many of the other organizations at the conference. Many of the organizations there were schools or museums, so not everything related to our daily work.

I still remember Mary showing us how to make yarn out of t-shirts and make watercolors and jump ropes out of used markers. We are such a new organization but these are exactly the kind of things we love, so it was great to see we were on the right track and also to bring some practical ideas back home. We also shared with Mary how we make no-sew aprons out of t-shirts so I was glad we could offer something back to her!

August 1, 2013 Facebook message from Julie Uyeno-Pidot to spare parts.
August 1, 2013 Facebook message from Julie Uyeno-Pidot to spare parts.

What’s the status of relationships with schools? Did anything from spare parts┬áspark ideas for working with schools and/or other nonprofits?

Julie–Art Explorium has a very positive relationship with local schools. The organization regularly hosts field trips and works with teachers beforehand to incorporate what the students are currently learning into the projects that the children participate in during their visit to the studio.

One example is a project that Art Explorium worked on with students from Hanahau’oli School, in which students built a structure using recyclable materials that encapsulated everything that they had learned in their unit on shelters and their importance to human survival. Spare parts has encouraged Williams and the rest of the Art Explorium staff to branch out from its regular activities–open studio, workshops and special events–to doing more community outreach e.g. an art supply fair.

I see you have some Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) art projects on your Facebook page, which are the kids favorites? Do you have suggestions for our readers?

Julie–The toilet paper roll Christmas decorations and decoupage gift boxes have been a big hit this season. Both toilet paper rolls and gift boxes lend themselves well to customization. Studio visitors have created adorable reindeer, snowmen and Santas with markers, ribbon, felt and paint, which can function either as stand-alone decorations or as ornaments. Colorful magazine pictures, paint brushes and a white glue and water wash make for attractive and personalized gift wrapping.

Art Explorium in action! Photo courtesy Art Explorium.
Art Explorium in action! Heather Williams (l), Executive Director and Julie Uyeno-Pidot (r). Photo courtesy Art Explorium.

What are some of your future plans?

Julie–Art Explorium plans on holding a small-scale art supply fair this summer with one of the neighborhood schools. This will give the nonprofit a better idea of what it will need for a larger event. We put together a creative reuse lesson plan pamphlet and a creative reuse guide (inspired by the one put out by spare parts) that can be distributed to teachers at these events. Art Explorium is also interested in doing a community mosaic project with renowned local artist Leah Rigg.

This project would enable children to create their own tiles and take part in the mosaic production process. The mosaic will be mounted at Maunalani Park in Kaimuki for the enjoyment of all visitors. The organization would also like to continue participating in community events with other arts and environmental organizations (e.g Honolulu Museum of Art, Our Kakaako and Surfrider Foundation) and eventually have an artmobile that would allow it to bring its services to low-income and/or geographically remote parts of the island.

Can we come visit you?
Julie and Heather–Yes, of course!