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Trash gets new life at Re-Create art exhibit

on November 29, 2012

Neck ties made of funky old fabrics. Empty apple juice boxes. Castoff cassette tapes. Detached hubcaps. Corks blotched with purple from wine long gone.

A random grouping of items, perhaps, but they might have been landfill fodder if it weren’t for the creative minds and crafty hands of Oakland students who used them instead to make art.

The “Re-Create” art exhibit, which opened on November 16 in downtown Oakland, features an array of artwork from dioramas to sculptures to wall hangings—all fashioned using repurposed materials. All pieces were entered into the annual “Re-Create” art contest sponsored by the City of Oakland’s Public Works Agency and produced by the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) in honor of America Recycles Day, which falls on November 15 each year.

Students, ranging from kindergarten to high school, submitted more than 100 individual and collaborative entries to the contest. This year’s panel of judges included Roxanne Padget of MOCHA and Roberta Miller of, the Alameda County waste management and recycling agency.

On opening night in the temporary gallery space located at 1423 Broadway, 15 awards and 9 honorable mentions were bestowed on pieces that best exemplified creative use of things otherwise destined for the trash.

“We do this to engage students in recycling in a fun, artistic way,” said Becky Dowdakin, Oakland’s solid waste and recycling program supervisor, who helped organize the event. “Seeing how the students make the link between the 4 R’s and what they’re creating is really exciting for us.”

While most people are familiar with three of the R’s—Reduce, Reuse and Recycle—the fourth, “Rot,” encourages composting.

“About a third of what goes in the landfill is organic materials that can be composted, and probably about a quarter is still paper that can be recycled,” Dowkadin said. “It’s kind of shocking in a way that some of the easiest things to recycle are going into the landfill.”

The packed room of parents, students and teachers was buoyed by the excitement and laughter of young people experiencing their first real art reception. Tracy Dordell, a third grade teacher at New Highland Academy in East Oakland was there to celebrate her students’ entry, “Tree of Re-use”—a stack of alternating wooden chairs that formed a trunk, with improvised poster board leaves sprouting from the top.

To create the “tree,” Dordell’s class had walked around New Highland’s campus on a rainy day, and found a group of discarded wooden chairs. The students took the chairs back to their classroom and piled one on top of the other, “like Jenga,” Dordell said. They then used the cardboard backing from a presentation chart pad to cut out leaf shapes, painted them green, wrote one of the 4R’s on each, and attached the leaves to the top of the chair “trunk” with old wire.

“It was a tree, and then we made it back as a tree,” said 8-year-old Sierra Carson, one of Dordell’s students, pointing out that the chairs had, in a way, come full circle.

“We want students to look at the stuff that they throw away or other people throw away and see that there’s still use in it,” Dowkadin said. “Even if it’s not the best use or ideal use, materials can still be used.”

The message was not lost on New Highland Academy third grader Alexa Garibay, another of Dordell’s students, who rejoiced with her classmates after they were announced the first place winners for the contest’s collaborations category. “I learned that our teacher always reuses stuff,” Alexa said. “She always says after you use it, you can save it for another project.”

The Re-Create art exhibit is hosted in a gallery at 1423 Broadway. The exhibit runs from November 16 to December 21. It is open Wednesday to Friday, from noon to 3 pm. 

The exhibit will also be open during Art Murmur, on Friday, December 7, from 5 pm to 8 pm, when The Museum of Children’s Art will host an ornament-making class using repurposed materials.

Items made during Re-Create library workshops will return to their home libraries after December 21, while other unclaimed pieces will be put on display in the second floor of the Kaiser Center near Lake Merritt. For more details visit 

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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