When school budgets are cut, art supplies are among the first things to go. Recycling has come to the rescue in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Jose--and beginning this weekend, Ventura County as well.
Diana Rigby, a curriculum expert with the Ventura County schools, is alerting the 6,000 teachers in her system about the Art From Scrap warehouse.
We're talking about an organization that collects brightly colored manufacturers' overruns of card stock, fabric, plastic, wood, etc. The Art From Scrap slogan is "Help support hands-on environmental education through the use of these materials in the classroom or the home."
"A barrelful of this stuff is pretty close to a kid's wildest dream," says Ann De Bruynkops, an art teacher who has been gathering such materials for years. She now welcomes the opening of a "steady and bountiful supply locally."
Launched as a nonprofit community project by two artists and former teachers, Irene Falzone and Bari Ramoy, the facility will initially be housed just off U.S. 101 on Anacapa Street in Santa Barbara. Manufacturers there and in Ventura have already provided a start-up stock of goodies, and more is on the way.
"Initially, we went around looking in dumpsters, and when there was really neat and colorful stuff we would go around to the front door and ask for it. Now they call us," Ramoy said.
"Teachers these days have to be clever. All they had before was construction paper, and that cost a lot more," Falzone said, referring to the five-bucks-a-shopping-bag charged at her facility. Items usable in art, science, math and social studies abound.
"They are selected with an artist's eye," Falzone said, "but any teacher is going to come in and say, 'I can use this and I can use that in class.' "
The facility is not just for professional educators. Parents are welcome, as well as day-care workers, artists and theater people.
A similar facility in Boston, housed at the Children's Museum, has become a bit of a tourist attraction. It's been going for 20 years at its present location. And demand has risen to the point where 6,000 square feet of warehouse space had to be found nearby to sort 150 tons of recyclables per year.
Los Angeles Children's Museum has such a program, too. But its solution for future growth, said program manager Carmen Guerrero, is to "go out to the schools" via a sort of "Bookmobile" program.
Both warehouse expansion and "mobile" availability throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties are on the minds of Ramoy and Falzone.
"Supply and demand are growing at the same pace. We can put it in the dump for a hundred years, or let it sustain our arts and schools for a hundred years," Falzone said. "Rocks and trees were the found objects of art in other times."
She pointed out a photo from San Jose of a sculpture made from material donated to the "Doodad Dump" at the Children's Museum there. It was essentially a spectral skeleton made from shredded milk containers.
The San Jose program also involves "post consumer" recycling of items such as the milk cartons.
Workers go through 120 cubic feet of material a day, according to Mary Simon, program director. A little army of 2,000 people troops through the facility each day and carries off materials that would otherwise go to a landfill.
The city of Ventura's Eric Werbalowsky noted that children's art is often thrown away. But he said that the whole art-from-scrap program resulted in a net improvement in the landfill situation.
When schools were providing kids art supplies, those materials may have ended up in the landfill. With this program, kids learn that recycling isn't just for bottles, cans and newspapers. Industrial "doodads" can be diverted and given a new life as replacements for dwindling school supples.
On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., "Art From Scrap" materials will be available to Ventura and Santa Barbara teachers. After restocking, the facility will be open beginning Oct. 5 for parents, child-care providers and others. Interested buyers can also see materials by appointment. The warehouse is at 321 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara. For more information or to make an appointment, call 969-9068.