It isn’t waste ’til we waste it.

“Imagine a place in San Antonio where waste inspires creativity…because it isn’t waste ’til we waste it,” reiterates Mary Elizabeth Cantú, Founder and Director of Spare Parts. As an organization whose mission includes–cultural and environmental sustainability; affordability and accessibility to the arts; community, education and creativity, green-style–Spare Parts engages the public with many possibilities to reach zero waste...


Collaborative project sees a creative reuse forest

Photo by Joey Lopez.
Photo by Joey Lopez.

See the Forest for the Trees is a remarkable artistic partnership between Spare Parts, the Southwest School of Art Teen Program (aka Bee Nation), and AP Art Lab. Members of Bee Nation decided they wanted to make a statement with a project for this year’s Contemporary Art Month (CAM). Under the guidance of Spare Part’s Founder and Director Mary Elizabeth Cantú 15 students collectively envisioned a large tree demonstrating the connection of art to the environment. “The theme of the exhibition revolves around the environment, material culture and waste,” explained Cantú. “Because, it’s not waste until we waste it.” Teen Program Coordinator and international installation, performance, and video artist, Julia Barbosa-Landois guarantees, “you will be wowed by this innovative installation made by local teens.”

Cardboard is everywhere. It’s used to package over 85 percent of all products sold in the United States. Seemingly innocuous, cardboard is the single largest component of municipal solid waste around the world.  Cardboard and paper waste make up 41% of the solid waste stream. According to this informative web article one ton of recycled cardboard saves:

  • 390 kWh hours of electricity
  • 46 gallons of oil
  • 6 million Btu’s of energy
  • 9 cubic yards of landfill space

It’s all about imagination and creativity

 Using over 400 square feet of discarded cardboard and reclaimed materials such as reused cardboard, plastic, paper and found objects from their homes and schools, Bee Nation students created this colorful, decorative tree to ‘uncover the aesthetics of detritus and reexamine their relationship with the discarded.’ Celia realized, “Until we did this project I had no idea the amount of trash we make as a society. It kind of freaked me out.” The student artists worked on their project beginning in January. First came the design and then the construction of the trunk and branches. Truly a tree of life there is a cornucopia of multimedia vignettes worth your while to give up close perusal. “Coming from a home of six people, we always have a LOT of toilet paper rolls. I learned that they can make really cool flower designs if you just alter their shape. That goes for all scraps of trash,” explained Alexis.

Someone said this to me the other day and it’s pretty on point – “Art is about transformation.”

See the Forest for the Trees


The resulting installation gives used cardboard a new life that honors its forest origins. “We didn’t know how it would look until it all came together during the installation,” said Bee Nation’s Elizabeth. Amanda Poplawsky, offered her AP Art Lab Studio located at 1906 South Flores for the exhibition. “I love working with youth in connection with social issues and activism,” she states. The above picture shows the tree from the front with closer views of some of the amazing details that went into the artistic construction. No wonder this installation won a Contemporary Art Month Cammie–the R. Mutt Award for Novel media turning something that isn’t art into art (see below photo with Cantú and Poplawsky) (March, 2016).

Cammie Award 2016

Cantú added, “Through this project I hope our artists are compelled to continue this type of art making. I hope these students see how their work can inspire and educate the community. Finally, I hope they understand that it doesn’t matter how young or young at heart you are, you have the ability to make positive change in the world.” This Tree of Life represents the hope for a healthier, more sustainable future. Because, there’s no such thing as thrown away!


Spare Parts is SA2020 nonprofit partner and this event was “Awesome Certified.”



Guest Post: #IAMREGION8 Brings Child Abuse Center Stage

Laura Carter_spare parts guest blogger
Laura Carter, Communications Director, Providence Catholic School

United We Will Conquer Child AbuseRegion 8” live reading is collaboration against child abuse.

Something interesting is happening in the fight against child abuse. It involves a collaboration of artists, writers, actors and area nonprofits to bring awareness to the dire condition of the foster system in Texas. A new TV pilot, “Region 8” written by Windell Middlebrooks, actor and star of ABC’s “Body of Proof”, and Shannon Ivey, a Texas Lutheran University professor, is the basis for a live reading taken to the stage by Theater for Change.

Middlebrooks and Ivey are committed to giving a voice to the fragile children and youth in a broken system in hopes of encouraging lawmakers to make changes and volunteers to work with agency programs.  Shannon Ivey is also the founder of Theater for Change, a nonprofit consisting of dramatic media artists whose mission is to produce theater that will bring messages of awareness, compassion and a call to action. “Region 8” is their current project.

Region 8 –The Truth behind the Texas Foster System is based on true, compelling stories collected from hundreds of interviews from one of the most afflicted foster regions in Texas–a section of the State that runs across the South Central portion from Val Verde County in the west through Jackson and Calhoun Counties in the east, with Bexar County right in the middle. Though the name sounds innocuous enough, in terms of child abuse, nothing is harmless about Region 8. Alarming statistics of child abuse are found here. In a DPS report from February 2014, more than 8,000 confirmed victims of child abuse were reported. There is neither agency staff nor volunteer assistance to handle more than 1/3 of the cases.

In addition to sponsorship and participation of other nonprofits like Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA), Any Baby Can, St. PJ’s and SA2020, Mary Elizabeth Cantu’s spare parts will share some of the art projects generated by youth in workshops previously facilitated by CASA at the events. “We’re thrilled to present some of the artwork created by these young, creative heroes in partnership with #iamregion8 on April 4 and 6,” Cantu said.

Photo thanks to Theater for Change.
Cantu reading “What a Wonderful World.” Photo thanks to Theater for Change.

Cantu elaborated on her involvement working with the foster system. “spare parts was asked to facilitate art-making workshops with youth in the foster system. The theme for our creative times was hope, and we were inspired by the song “What a Wonderful World” sung by Louis Armstrong and written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss. We also read the book “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney. Kids were encouraged to reflect on all of the wonderful aspects of their world and were given all sorts of reusable materials to make their own artwork. Everyone was so proud of their work and kept it; some allowed us to keep one of their artworks so it could be exhibited.”

Working with kids in foster care is one of the reasons why Cantu got into arts education and arts education advocacy. Cantu has 10 years experience creating curriculum and teaching art to kids in CPS care. “It’s a fact: the arts (from theater to dance; visual art to poetry) can allow kids to express themselves in a positive, productive way,” stated Cantu. “It can give them the tools to help with healing and to help with processing the past and set positive goals. The materials that spare parts uses show everyone you don’t need expensive supplies to be creative.”

I asked Mary how she got involved with the upcoming #iamregions8 events. “The Molly Cox! We are so grateful she connected us to Shelly Chance and Shannon Ivey of Theatre for Change,” Cantu said. “Ivey and Chance are devoted to being part of the solution of making change in the foster care system.”

IAMREGION8 spare parts art workshop
spare parts facilitated art workshops with youth in the Region 8 foster care system.

Melinda Tucker’s oldest son, William, is involved in the “Region 8” project by portraying a six year old boy who is in the State’s care, and has been terribly abused. When asked by his mother why he agreed to be a part of the live reading for the pilot, “Region 8”, William said “At first I was very hesitant because of the nature of abuse I would be portraying and was very uncomfortable doing so live on stage.” He added, “After praying about it, I decided that if I could make even a small difference in helping these abused and/or neglected children to be placed in a loving home then it would be worth it.” If this young man can overcome being ‘uncomfortable’ to help these children, shouldn’t we adults be able to do the same?


Friday, April 4th @ Texas Lutheran University Jackson Auditorium, 7pm – FREE ADMISSION

Sunday, April 6th @ The Empire Theatre, 7pm – TICKETS AVAILABLE


About “Region 8”: “Region 8” is a television pilot written by Shannon Ivey and Windell Middlebrooks, based on the true stories collected from hundreds of interviews from one of Texas’ most afflicted foster regions. “Region 8” is a powerful look into the lives of three people who are brave enough to endure the heartbreak, and rejoice in the triumphs of working as an advocate, a foster parent and a CPS investigator in a system that is seemingly broken from the inside out.

About Theater for Change: Theater for Change, 501(c)3, is a coalition of South Texas dramatic media artists who are committed to linking the stories inherent within theatre, film and new media to the needs and messages of nonprofit organizations. We aim to weld the weakest links in our community by producing, reviewing, and creating works of theater, film and new media that encourage awareness, compassion and a call to action.

Follow us on Twitter: @theatre4change