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San Francisco Artists Make Art from Trash

Trash and garbage are other words for waste – things that people no longer want or need. In San Francisco, they are also words for art.

A local recycling company, called Recology, created a program to give artists the opportunity to re-use unwanted objects. Artists are paid to work for four months on transforming things like old tires, toys and paint.

Ma Li is one of the artists at the center. She is working on a project that includes plastic bottles, cardboard tubes and cloth. Ma Li is turning them into a moving sculpture with stars, flowing air and dancers.

Ms. Li says she learned recycling from her parents while growing up in China in the 1980s. It was a time when the country was poorer and more concerned about saving money than it is today.

San Francisco artist Michael Arcega works with recycled wood and old leather belts, all saved from the garbage.

“My project is based on pseudo-anthropological research on the people of the Nacirema.”

Michael Arcega explains that “Nacirema” is “American” spelled backwards. His artwork shows what he says is the wasteful culture of the American people. Still, he says looking through the trash is not easy. It is hard to separate what is useful and what is really garbage.

A gallery in Los Angeles is displaying some of the art from the San Francisco project. The show includes pictures made from pieces of labels, sculptures from old metal, and saws that have been cut to look like trees.

Each year more than 5,000 children and adults visit shows created by the artists. They also attend educational tours that allow the public to talk to the artists and learn important lessons about recycling.

Los Angeles gallery owner Liz Gordon says artists have a history of recycling.

“People who didn’t have the resources to be able to go out and buy supplies found supplies and have been using found objects and assemblage for many, many years.”

Artist Ma Li says these art works have a message.

“So everyone can come together to actually make little change in their daily life and behavior to actually try to save the environment and resources.”

Mike Sangiacomo heads the recycling company. He says he hopes to see as much waste as possible reused.

“Along the way, if some of it is made into some fun pieces of art and draws people’s attention to the issue, we think it’s a great way to do something that’s good for our business, good for our community, good for society.”

And the project shows how a little imagination can change one person’s trash into another’s art work.

I’m Marsha James.

This report was based on a story from VOA reporter Mike O’Sullivan. Marsha James wrote it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

recyclingadj. related to using something again

tubesn. long hollow objects

labels n. material attached to something to identify or describe it

sawsn. tools with sharp teeth used to cut wood

assemblage n. a group of people or things

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