CREATIVE PEAKS: Molding the Future

By on March 28, 2017

Students dream up art to impact the behavior of millions of visitors.

Models of the STREAM project. Conceived by JHHS students, the eco-centered art installation will live in Grand Teton National Park.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – How do you design art that illustrates the importance of recycling in a universal language? In a place like Grand Teton National Park, where there is opportunity to impart teachable moments on visitors from around the world, Jackson Hole High School students are tackling this challenge.

Digital Fabrication Lab or “FabLab,” is a JHHS elective program that teaches students how to envision, design, and make innovative projects. Led by FabLab director Sammie Smith, four levels of classes are offered each year. The second level class teams up with Jackson Hole Public Art to create projects with community impact.

Fabulous collaborations

JH Public Art’s artist/instructor/ambassador Bland Hoke, Jr. connected the FabLab students with a project spearheaded by Subaru. The car manufacturer is a “zero landfill” company, meaning it sends none of its waste to landfills. For the national parks’ centennial year, Subaru reps wanted to bring that zero landfill concept to the parks and see what could emerge.

GTNP staffers responded by inviting the FabLab students to design some concepts. “They asked the students to think up wild ideas,” Hoke said. “From indoor recycling bins, or educational exhibits. They welcomed everything from the fun and innovative to the practical and scalable.”

The students incorporated field trips to the recycling center and the park to understand the entire waste stream cycle. “[They] developed a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of our county having a national park nearby and the impact of visitors on our local systems,” Smith said.

As the year progressed, students presented their concept designs to park staff and received feedback. They refined their concepts more, and finally, on March 8 they presented their latest concepts to a panel of Subaru and park officials.

For students, the iterative process of design review and working in both small groups and as a larger group has been an important part of the education process, Hoke said. “It’s exciting to see them embracing the design process where you have to be able to work past initial knee jerk ideas and then work as a team,” he said.

The panel of judges selected two of the students’ projects, and now all the second year students will work on those two projects in order to get them ready for installation this year. The projects include a large art installation that shows the amount of plastic bottle waste in a single day in the park. The other project is a recycling bin that helps people sort out what to throw where when discarding recyclable objects. Both projects will appear at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center this summer.

Stream of awareness

One of the student projects selected, “STREAM,” features a hanging stream of colored plastic bottles and oversized fish made of wire and coated with scales created from recycled cans. STREAM was one of the more conceptual projects, Hoke said. “It’s a visualization project. The bottles represent one day’s worth of plastic bottle recycling in the park—over 7,500 bottles.”

The students hope to install STREAM in an outdoor courtyard, and situate it so it leads visitors to the water bottle filling station. Encouraging an alternative to producing water bottle waste is a key element in the visualization. “From afar, someone might not know what it is at first,” Smith said. “When they get up close, the impact increases.”

The other winning project is more practical. A recycling bin in the shape of a mountain range will aid visitors in self-sorting their recyclables by using clear imagery of what goes where. Hoke is helping the students utilize a zero-waste strategy for manufacturing, so that when they cut the metal mountain shapes they will get two usable shapes with one cut.

Hoke says the bin project offers an idea to the park about how to communicate with a diversity of visitors. Because the bin will use imagery rather than words to indicate what recyclable goes where, more people can easily participate.

The benefits of this partnership between the park and the FabLab are myriad. Visitors glean a better understanding of their impact on the natural environment and ideas for how to minimize that impact. The park gains ideas for alternative messaging.

And the young designers learn how their ideas can have a practical and wide-ranging impact. “They see themselves as designers and they see how this might shape their futures,” Smith said. PJH

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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