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Yukon art society aims to challenge perceptions of ‘waste’ through new program

The initiative is geared towards seniors and will involve creating art and fashion from waste

The Whitehorse-based society Yukon Artists @ Work (YAAW) is preparing to launch its Changing Trash to Treasure initiative, a program born out of a desire to increase public awareness about waste and reclaimed materials.

Backed by $25,000 in federal funding, the program is primarily aimed at seniors and is comprised of two activities: the creation of mosaic panels out of colourful recycled plastics and a fashion showcase of garments made from materials destined for the dustbin.

Janet Patterson, a member artist at YAAW’s gallery and member-at-large for the society’s board, says the idea for the initiative came about after a conversation with another artist about the amount of materials that end up in landfills.

“We both have grave concerns about the state of the world right now, and we see the amount of materials that end up in our landfills. We both focus on using repurposed and reclaimed materials in our art practices, so we knew we wanted to offer programming incorporating repurposed materials,” says Patterson.

The mosaic activity will see older citizens partnering with YAAW members to create two eight-by-four-foot panels made from colourful recycled plastics such as bottle caps and bags. Mosaic workshops are open to community members aged 55 and above and will be held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from June 20 to July 13.

Upon the completion of the mosaics, one of the panels will be displayed outside the society’s art gallery, while the other will be mounted to the exterior of Whitehorse’s Raven Recycling building.

Raven Recycling has provided YAAW with the bulk of the material they will use to construct the mosaic panels, and the society’s members decided to gift one of the panels to the non-profit recycling depot to show their gratitude.

“We offered Raven Recycling the panel because they have been so great. They have provided us with many plastic bottle caps for the mosaics project. So we wanted to say thank you to them, and this was one way of saying thank you,” says Patterson.

As for how long Whitehorse residents can expect the mosaic to be displayed at the recycling center, Patterson tells the News that it is up to Raven Recycling.

“It will be up to them how long they leave the panel up. Plastics, as you know, when they’re in the sun, they do degrade over time. So I can’t see it lasting for generations or anything like that. But it will be up as long as they want to leave it up.”

The trash-to-treasure initiative’s second program will see professional artists create apparel and accessories from materials destined for the landfill. These fashion items, approximately 20 in total, will then be worn by seniors and youth at an outdoor fashion show at Shipyards Park at the end of July.

“For the fashion show, we wanted to also use seniors, but we wanted to pair them with either a child or teenager so that the project is multi-generational,” says Patterson.

The fashion show will be open to fashionistas and the broader public, and admission is by donation.

READ MORE: 4 First Nations artists from Whitehorse awarded scholarships from YVR Art Foundation

Speaking about how the creatives behind the fashion pieces will create their items, Patterson says the artists are finding materials “all over the place.”

“They are going to some of the free stores in the area, and they’re picking up things from their own garbage or things that they might have thrown away. They’re saying, wait a minute, I can use this for one of the pieces.”

She recounts the story of one of the waste-utilizing fashion creators, who has been spending time at a Vancouver-area hospital where a relative is a patient. The artist has repurposed some of the medical gloves they’d worn while visiting the medical facility, and now they’re using them for one of the outfits that will be modelled at the fashion show.

Organizers believe that both activities are accessible and enjoyable for people without a background in the arts. They’re also cognizant that some older people might be nervous about participating in group activities as COVID-19 is still a genuine concern.

“We’re aware that COVID is still making its rounds here and that some of our vulnerable populations, like seniors and elders, are still not comfortable in large crowds and enclosed spaces. So we chose activities that allow for small groups, and also — as much as possible — will take place outdoors.”

According to Patterson, YAAW hopes that the initiative will change how people think about waste, viewing it as a valuable raw material that can be used for many purposes — like minerals pulled out of mines — instead of just rubbish. Organizers also hope to alter wasteful consumption habits.

“It’s a matter of getting people to think about what they’re purchasing. First of all, try not to purchase more than you need. But once you’ve got this stuff, what can you do with it so that it doesn’t end up going to either the recycling centre or the landfill,” she says.

Individuals interested in participating in either of the Changing Trash to Treasure initiative’s activities are encouraged to call YAAW at 867-393-4848.

READ MORE: 14 new art pieces selected for inclusion in Yukon Permanent Art Collection

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