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“Years of Living Dangerously”

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.

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

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.
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