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Earth Day

It’s garbage and it’s art: Montclair Film Festival’s Spotlight Project, the Climate Campaign Partnership

in Environment/Montclair Film/Montclair Film Festival/Uncategorized
Students stand behind the art made of plastic bags and water bottles. It will be installed at Montclair Film’s new building at 505 Bloomfield Ave.
Courtesy Neil Grabowsky.


This year, for the second time, the Montclair Film Festival sponsored a Spotlight Project for local teens. Last year’s project focused on immigration and was geared to high school students. This year, Montclair Film (the organization’s new name) sponsored the Climate Campaign Partnership, an integrated STEAM program with the Montclair Cooperative School and National Geographic’s series on climate change, “Years of Living Dangerously.” The program kicked off in February with screenings of the series. In March, participating students received a Student Action Kit containing scripts and templates to help them contact representatives about climate change.

In April, students began attending a series of workshops, led by MFF Director of Education Sue Hollenberg and art teacher and activist Debbie Harner, to create a giant public art installation using plastic bags, bottles and refuse. The art will be installed in MF’s new building at 505 Bloomfield Ave.

Harner said in an email, “The beauty of art is its power to involve people. In this case, our Climate Campaign art installation worked on two fronts. Over the last few weeks it brought kids from our community together to bring this work to life. It was an ongoing process and conversation. The second event will be its debut which will engage viewers to come closer, learn more about this important issue and, hopefully, get involved.”

Students make Earth Day signs. Courtesy Sue Hollenberg.

The conceptual art work students create, Harner wrote, uses plastic water bottles to represent air, and plastic bags and plastic mesh bags to represent water. “Both air and water absorb CO2. These plastics are the tangible things that are being used to illustrate CO2. The innocence of these vernacular objects creates a powerful message when forced to understand its underlining reality. Many students will come together during a series of workshops to add to the size of the piece. The plastic water bottles become unrecognizable due to the sheer number of bottles diminishing its original form.”

Hollenberg said that people will look at the art at first and see it as “really beautiful, then realize it’s all garbage.” The three workshops held to create the art were an open invitation to the community, she said. The program had targeted high school students, then the leaders discovered that parents brought younger children and “kids of all ages were into it, and found stuff to do.”

The workshops had different stations set up. At one station, students made signs for Earth Day. Hollenberg said she was impressed by the students’ focus and the social relevance of the signs they made. At another station, students made art out of plastic, with “the hammering, the squishing of the bottles.”

Students were not surprised the materials could be made into art, Hollenberg said. “They just started hammering away. The little ones were jumping in bags of bottles.”

Though the Student Action Kit suggests some political action, for Hollenberg, climate change “shouldn’t be a political issue. This is about their future.”

Debbie Harner, standing, assists students making art out of plastic bags and bottles. Courtesy Sue Hollenberg.

It’s all happening at the zoo: Montclair artists plan Earth Day kindie rock music festival

in Arts/Environment/Music
Zoo attendees jump with the Jungle Gym Jam onstage at the Turtle Back Zoo’s amphitheater on Saturday, April 15, in advance of their appearance at the zoo’s Party For the Planet Earth Day Celebration on Saturday, April 22. 


Plants and animals and children just seem to go together. That’s one reason Montclair’s Jason Didner wanted to hold a “kindie rock” concert at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22. Five New Jersey artists, all independent musicians who make children’s music, will perform in “Party for the Planet” in front of the Reptile House at 11 a.m.

“I’m encouraging families to enjoy nature, enjoy the animals and being outdoors,” said Didner, the leader of Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam. “Hopefully they will hear some songs that get them thinking about ways to help the environment, and about ways to unplug from their gadgets for a while and just enjoy nature and live music.”

Didner gained statewide fame in 2013 when The New York Times spotlighted his 2001 song “You Can’t Get There from Here in Jersey,” about New Jersey jughandles, where you have to “turn right to turn left” off the highway. There was a bill proposed in the New Jersey Senate to ban their future construction.

Caitlin Sharp, of Essex County Cultural Affairs, worked with Didner on the space and date. Music with Molly, starring Molly Dorsman, will play at 11. Baze & his Silly Friends, who mix up nursery rhymes until a young audience member corrects them, will perform at 11:35 a.m.

Miss Nina, a YouTube star well known for her “Brown Bear Rap” based on the Eric Carle/Bill Martin Jr. book, will play at 12:10 and 2:10 p.m. The Fuzzy Lemons, who combine rock, funk and blues, will play at 12:45. Didner himself will perform at 1:20.
All of the bands are from Essex County except for The Fuzzy Lemons, who are from Hoboken.

Didner’s 6-year-old daughter, Holly, who sometimes performs with the band, will probably be in the audience dancing, he said, but his wife, Amy, will be on stage.

A zoo attendee checks out Amy Didner’s seal puppet during Jungle Gym Jam’s warm up at the Turtle Back Zoo amphitheater on Saturday, April 15, in preparation for their appearance at the zoo’s Party For the Planet Earth Day Celebration on Saturday, April 22. 

Some of Didner’s songs are connected to the zoo: the kiddie train that runs around the zoo and the sight of the water sparkling on the reservoir gave him the idea for the chorus of “Window of the Train,” he said. The catchy earworm “Five Sea Lions” was inspired by the zoo’s getting a sea lion exhibit in 2013.

An Earth Day festival isn’t overtly political, but for Didner there’s an undercurrent of activism: “I hope that by going to events like this, parents will make it a priority to demand that their politicians take climate change seriously, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans.”

Party for the Planet
Saturday, April 22, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
The Reptile House, Turtle Back Zoo, South Mountain Reservation, 560 Northfield Ave., West Orange
11: Music with Molly
11:35: Baze & his Silly Friends
12:10: Miss Nina
12:45: The Fuzzy Lemons
1:20: Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam
2:10: Miss Nina


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