How do cultural organizations help people stay creative during a pandemic? They recycle ideas, getting creative themselves in order to create accessible art.
“If people are gonna live like this for the next year, you have to give them an outlet,” says Angie Eng, the founder and director of Creative Catalyzers, a Boulder group that produces creative activities for marginalized communities, including people experiencing homelessness. From art exhibitions to concerts, Creative Catalyzers gives people an outlet to express themselves.
One of those outlets was Earth Wear, a project that is on display through August 30 in a Boulder park that was designed to raise awareness about how much we consume and how much waste is produced. To address the issue, Eng, who describes herself as the author of the project, brought together families who work with Creative Catalyzers and residents of Mother House, a shelter for mothers experiencing homelessness. They assembled reused materials — including household items, discarded electronics and plastic bottle caps — and wrapped them around trees, an environmentalist take on yarn bombing.
The process, which started with Creative Catalyzers bringing people experiencing homelessness into a studio to collaborate, was far from easy after the pandemic hit.
“Originally, we would all be huddled over a long table sewing and gluing and working together for like four hours at a time,” Eng explains. “These people really wanted to work all day in a studio. I would provide meals, bus tickets and a warm space, and they would also work on this art project.”
After the state shut down, Eng had to change many of her plans. Instead of gathering participants together, she used video tutorials to explain how to make the pieces.
She also had a hard time finding materials. Originally, the plan was to collect reused items from thrift stores, but many of the shops were closed during the first few months of the pandemic. Eng relied on donations from individuals to get materials for the project.
“People would drop off materials at the Arts Parts Creative Reuse Center, or they’d drop it off at my door,” Eng says. “In the very beginning, there were a lot of people cleaning out their garages, and we’d scan NextDoor and Craigslist every few days.”
Even though conditions for the project weren't ideal, she still felt it was important to offer the opportunity to participants and viewers alike. So after the pieces were finished, Creative Catalyzers displayed them in a place easy for people to reach, wrapping trees in art made from recycled material.
“The idea with socially engaged art is to really involve the community," Eng says. "To get people engaged in the arts and activism.”
Doing so can be transformative, she notes: “Just a little touch of creativity in the community really sparks some positivity."
Earth Wear will be up until August 30 at the northwest corner of Iris and 26th streets in Boulder. Plans are in the works to create a more elaborate version of the project in May 2021; Creative Catalyzers has already launched a GoFundMe account. Find out more here.
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