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PLARN ART TO SAVE THE PLANET: AN ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE PROJECT WITH MICHELLE LOUGEE

In 2019 I worked with the Arlington Commission for Arts & Culture to develop an Artist-in-Residence project which would bring sculptor Michelle Lougee to Arlington to create a collaborative work of pubic art with community volunteers and environmental activists.  The residency was hosted by the Arlington Public Libraries and enlisted 10 community organizations as partners, including Sustainable Arlington, the Arlington Public School Green Teams, and the Arlington DPW's Recycling Coordinator and Zero Waste Committee.

Lougee crochets her sculptural elements using "plarn" – a yarn made by cutting up single use plastic bags.  Her goal is to call attention to the dangers of plastic for the environment, especially our oceans. Originally working with shapes inspired by seed pods, ocean animals, and nests, many of her current forms are inspired by the micro-organisms found in water, in part because plastic ultimately photo-degrades into particles that resembe these tiny creatures and, at this size infiltrates all other life forms by travelling through the food chain.

Lougee and I worked together to design a residency structure which included monthly workshops at a variety of sites – libraries, the Council on Aging, schools, and a local cafe.  Building on Adria Arch's RIPPLE project, we recruited a wonderful group of craftivist to fabricate sculptural components and act as mentors at workshops, helping to teach basic crochet skills to beginners.

The COVID-19 virus interrupted the momentum of this project, which had complementary goals of building community and promoting environmental activism.  It was no longer possible to gather in groups or share donated materials, and the pandemic brought other priorities and challenges to the forefront. 

Many of our craftivists took a time out to make masks; others had full plates with kids at home and their regular work. Still others had their own health concerns or were caring for aging parents.  A group of about 15 people have kept the project going; Michelle is using wire to reinforce more than 250 soft shapes created by community volunteers.  These will be assembled into larger sculptural pieces and installed in trees along the Minuteman Bikeway near Spy Pond in July/August as the 2020 installment of PATHWAYS.

PLARN ART was commissioned as part of PATHWAYS: Art on the Minuteman Bikeway, a public art initiative launched to enhance Arlington’s newly designated Cultural District, which stretches from Capitol Square in East Arlington to Arlington Center.  The Bikeway offers a tree-lined route connecting two vibrant centers of town life, with their cafes & restaurants, neighborhood shops & libraries, and spaces for making or experiencing art, music, film & dance.