South Bend Museum of Art Education Blog

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Found Object Art

Creative Reuse Art Making

by Amy Keenan Amago

The United States produces more trash than any other country in the world. The average citizen produces 4.4 pounds of solid waste each day, which adds up to almost a ton of trash per person, per year. While these statistics are staggering, there has been a growing movement to stop this disturbing trend by finding new uses for the plentiful trash our country produces. Creative reuse or “upcycling”– the act of taking objects that would otherwise be discarded or recycled and transforming them into artful, decorative or utilitarian items – has gained popularity among artists and educators in recent years as budgets tighten and concerns for the environment mount. As an artist and art teacher, I have found great value in working with recycled or rescued items both in the classroom and in my studio. Working with non-traditional art materials poses unique creative challenges and thrills, as it stimulates my intellect in a way no other art medium can. I find the rationale compelling for working with theses items in my own art and including them in my art curriculum. I would like to share a few thoughts, ideas and resources about incorporating creative reuse in the art classroom.

The practice of creating something useful or artful out of materials other people have deemed useless holds a number of rich learning opportunities for students. In addition to teaching students to become more aware of their consumption practices and to find ways of living less wastefully, creative reuse in the classroom helps develop divergent thinking skills. Working with non-traditional art materials encourages students to think creatively about the function and purpose of an object or material. Devising innovative or artful new uses for recycled or discarded items requires students to move beyond pedestrian associations in order to elevate a mundane object to an extraordinary level. Creative reuse projects are inherently motivating to students because their brains are stimulated and interests piqued when given the chance to work with objects typically not found in a school curriculum. Using upcycled goods also teaches students that beauty or usefulness is a matter of perspective and that breathing new life into objects is not only fun and environmentally responsible but also empowering: the means for creating art is all around us and our minds are our greatest tools for making meaning and art in this world.

Creative reuse in the classroom is good for teachers as well as students, since it allows teachers to make connections within and beyond their school communities. Many useful, inspiring materials can be collected by putting a word out to the parents and colleagues in one’s school. Parents may become more invested in and aware of a teacher’s curriculum when they have volunteered items for student use. Incorporating items from a local reuse center, thrift store or business helps connect the school to its larger community as well. Displaying the artwork or projects students have created with the items from a particular source is a wonderful opportunity for showcasing a school’s assets and its environmental consciousness. Artwork can be displayed at the school, in the community, or at the site from which the materials where collected, as illustrated in some of the links included below. There are also many interdisciplinary cultural connections that can be made within a creative reuse project, as it is common for artists and crafts people in many developing nations to create art and other goods using upcycled materials such as old magazines, tires, license plates, scrap metal and more. (Visit a local Ten Thousand Villages to view examples these items.) An important and more obvious advantage to creative reuse projects in school is that these materials cost very little if any money at all. This is good news for artists and teachers in a tender economy.

This month, I will be posting a series of creative reuse lesson ideas. Each week will focus on a different age group and the lessons will be easily adaptable to higher or lower grade levels. The lessons I describe will be geared toward art teachers with modifications for the classroom teacher in mind. These will be overviews, not complete lesson plans. However, any educator who is interested in obtaining more details about a lesson may email me for more information.

If you are interested in learning more about Creative Reuse centers, materials and projects, click on the following links:

Creative Reuse Centers and Sites:

The ReStore in South Bend –

The Creative Reuse Warehouse in Chicago –

Creative Resources in Franklin, IN –

Art from Scrap in Santa Barbara, CA –

The Scrap Exchange of Durham, NC –

Scrap of San Francisco, CA –

S.C.R.A.P. of Portland, OR –

The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse –

Freecycle –

Blogs and Blog posts such as:

How to Reuse it Creatively –

Bean’s Blog –

Cosa Verde –

For Examples of Creative Reuse Art and Artists:

South Bend’s Junk Evolution –


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