Repurpose: Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts Project Shows Camden Youth How to Create Works of Art from Recycled Materials

By Tom McLaughlin

To many people, used items such as cardboard, papers, straws, old clothes, and detergent containers might sound like junk.

However, for a group of Camden youth this summer, they are materials ripe for creating inspired works of art.

Visiting artists affiliated with the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts have been leading the children – attending summer camp at the Cramer Hill Community Center – in the creation of two-dimensional artworks, small sculptures, and wearable art from recycled materials gathered at Rutgers University–Camden.

“This art program will not only will teach how recycling cuts down on the garbage in our landfills, but teach  the responsibility of taking action to reduce and recycle for a healthier environment,” says Carmen Pendleton, community and artist programs manager for the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts.

An exhibition featuring the recycled masterpieces will be held at a time to be determined in the center, located in Von Nieda Park at 1084 North 29th Street in Camden.

“We want to show students a different and fun way to make art while raising awareness of the importance of recycling and reusing,” says Salomé Cosmique, who has been leading the workshops with fellow professional teaching artist Heryk Tomassini.

Over the course of 16 workshops, Cosmique explains, students have been creating art inspired by the works of Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist who created art with recycled materials, and in the style of influential artists of the 20th Century, such as Paul Klee, Sol Lewitt, Joan Miro, and Jackson Pollock.

The Rutgers–Camden visiting artists note that, in addition to developing their artistic and creative skills, students are learning various methods and techniques for working with recycled and other arts materials. For instance, they have replaced canvases with cardboard and are experimenting with new techniques, such as producing collages with old magazines and recycled paper.

“By exploring special materials that they haven’t worked with before, students will have the opportunity to push their limits and open windows of possibilities,” says Tomassini.

But the lessons don’t end there. According to Cosmique, the artists’ ultimate goal is to create a safe and open space for dialogue, wherein children can learn about the importance of multicultural differences and multicultural thinking.

“The objective is for students to learn about these differences as they learn about art in a fun and creative way,” she says, adding that, as the students learn how to explain their work, they will develop and utilize their critical thinking skills.

The Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts project is funded by Cooper’s Ferry Partnership’s “Connect the Lots” program, which aims to host community-driven artistic, cultural, and recreational projects in vacant and underutilized spaces.

The recycling aspect of the concept links to the project, “A New View,” funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge. Rutgers University–Camden is a lead partner on the project, which encourages Camden residents to combat illegal dumping of household and or industrial waste through education efforts and public-private partnerships.

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