RAIR founders present recyclable art in Tyler

On Thursday, Feb. 23, Recycled Artists in Residency, a nonprofit that connects artists with recycled materials, spoke to students on Main Campus.

For years, recycling has suffered from a bit of an image problem. For many people, sorting trash simply isn’t sexy enough. Others just don’t care enough.

In Philadelphia however, a group of artists are changing that, one toilet seat, tricycle and plastic bottle sculpture at a time.

Recycled Artists in Residency is a nonprofit organization that provides artists with access to recycled materials. Two of the group’s co-founders, Billy Blaise Dufala and Fern Gookin spoke about RAIR’s mission and purpose to students at Tyler School of Art on Thursday, Feb. 23.

“We are trying to connect art and sustainability, while increasing awareness about the waste stream,” said Gookin, who first conceptualized RAIR as a thesis project while she was a sustainable design student at Philadelphia University.

Gookin said she used her knowledge of sustainability and collaborated with Dufala, a local artist, and Avi Golden, co-founder of the recycling plant Revolution Recovery, in order to create this multi disciplinary concept.

“All three of us had this common overlap,” Gookin said. “We wanted to keep materials out of the waste stream.”

Revolution Recovery in Northeast Philly, does this on a much grander scale. The business collects waste from construction sites and then sorts and recycles it back at its warehouse. In doing this, it is able to collect approximately 200 tons of waste each day and divert 80 percent of that away from landfills.

RAIR works with Revolution Recovery to allow artists to pick through the waste as it’s being sorted so they can incorporate it into their projects. These are referred to as ‘Biggie Shorties,’ because they are often big projects completed in a short period of time. Past Biggie Shorties of RAIR artists have included a set of large sails created out of discarded plastic and Tyvek, and a billboard structure made of plastic fencing.

“It’s hard for emerging artists to get materials because they are so expensive,” Dufala said. “But since it’s trash, they are able to get as much as they want.”

Dufala said he has been working with recycled materials as a cost-saving measure for as long as he can remember.

“Growing up in a large family I have always gotten hand-me-downs,” he said. “So being resourceful has always been built in. It wasn’t a decision to work with found materials. It was a necessity.”

At the moment, RAIR is still in its development stages, looking for grant money and fundraising opportunities to expand the organization’s size and to allow more artists to participate. However this is a difficult task. All three of the co-founders have full-time day jobs, and work with RAIR whenever they have a moment to spare, but the rewards are worth the effort.

“It’s very rewarding to see what the artists get out of a project,” Gookin said. “These materials are not just trash, they’re something that an artist can actually use.”

Amy Stansbury can be reached at amy.stansbury@temple.edu.

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