Collaborative Art Sees a Creative Reuse Forest

By Laura Carter

See the Forest for the Trees is a remarkable artistic partnership between spare parts, the Southwest School of Art Teen Program (aka Bee Nation), and AP Art Lab. Members of Bee Nation decided they wanted to make a statement with a project for this year’s Contemporary Art Month (CAM). Under the guidance of spare parts’ Mary Elizabeth Cantú, collectively 15 students envisioned a large tree demonstrating the connection of art to the environment. “The theme of the exhibition revolves around environment, material culture and waste,” explained Cantú founder and director of spare parts. “Because, it’s not waste until we waste it.” Teen Program Coordinator and international installation, performance, and video artist, Julia Barbosa-Landois guarantees, “you will be wowed by this innovative installation made by local teens.”

Spare Parts Tree of Life

Ubiquitous, cardboard is used to package over 85 percent of all products sold in the United States. Seemingly innocuous, cardboard is the single largest component of municipal solid waste around the world. Cardboard and paper waste make up 41% of the solid waste stream. According to this informative web article one ton of recycled cardboard saves:

  • 390 kWh hours of electricity
  • 46 gallons of oil
  • 6 million Btu’s of energy
  • 9 cubic yards of landfill space

It’s all imagination and creativity

Using over 400 square feet of discarded cardboard and reclaimed materials often thought of as trash — used cardboard, plastic, paper and found objects — from their homes and communities Bee Nation students realized this colorful, decorative tree to ‘uncover the aesthetics of detritus and reexamine their relationship with the discarded.’ The student artists worked on their project beginning in January. First came the design and then the construction of the trunk and branches. Truly a tree of life there is a cornucopia of multimedia vignettes worth your while to give up close perusal. “We didn’t know how it would look until it all came together during the installation,” said Bee Nation’s Elizabeth.

Spare Parts Tree of Life

“Coming from a home of six people, we always have a LOT of toilet paper rolls. I learned that they can make really cool flower designs if you just alter their shape. That goes for all scraps of trash,” explained Alexis. Celia realized, “Until we did this project I had no idea the amount of trash we make as a society. It kind of freaked me out.”

“Art is about transformation.”

The resulting installation gives used cardboard a new life that honors its forest origins. Amanda Poplawsky, offered her AP Art Lab Studio located at 1906 South Flores for the exhibition. “I love working with youth in connection with social issues and activism,” she states. “It’s a great piece for Second Saturday and CAM.” Cantú added, “Through this project I hope our artists are compelled to continue this type of art making. I hope these students see how their work can inspire and educate the community. Finally, I hope they understand that it doesn’t matter how young or young at heart you are, you have the ability to make positive change in the world.”

This Tree of Life represents the hope for a healthier, more sustainable future. Because, there’s no such thing as thrown away!

See the Forest for the Trees opened on March 12th and will run through March 31st at AP Art Lab. Spare Parts is an SA2020 partner, and this event is Certified Awesome.


Associated Causes


Laura Carter is a writer, blogger, social media maven, and nonprofit advocate. A communications professional, she is currently working with Blessed Sacrament Academy on Mission Road helping develop their communications/fundraising programs. Laura serves on the Advisory Board of spare parts. In addition, she volunteered in previous years with TEDxSA View all posts by Laura Carter.