Events, People, Photos

ACAC Artist-in-Residence Plarn Art Project

The soft rustle of plastic newspaper bags fills the basement of the Fox Library. A half-dozen people are sorting them into piles by color. This is the Plarning Brigade, a group of volunteers participating in Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture’s (ACAC) artist-in-residence Michelle Lougee‘s collaborative project.

Brucie Moulton from Sustainable Arlington (L) chats with Lougee (R) as they prep bags for plarn.

Lougee, a sculptor and fiber artist who works in a variety of media, is teaching Arlington residents how to make plastic yarn, or “plarn,” out of newspaper and produce bags, and how to crochet that plarn into three-dimensional, organic-looking shapes. She’s been using post-consumer waste, including plastic bags, as an art material for a decade. Her work explores the tension between nature and humanity, addressing pollution and consumption’s affect on the environment by juxtaposing organic shapes and synthetic materials. Now she’s bringing her skills and perspective to Arlington, where, with her guidance, the Plarning Brigade will produce a large-scale installation.

Sonya pierces the closed ends of yellow newspaper bags so she can crochet them into plarn.

The ACAC has set up plastic bag collection boxes at the Fox Library and the Department of Public Works to gather supplies for the project. The Fox is hosting monthly meetups for the Brigade to work on the installation, and the ACAC is offering a series of workshops around town for those interested to learn the basics and join the Brigade.

“Micro,” an element from Lougee’s installation Ubiquitous (2015) perches in the display case in the Fox Library lobby.
A member of the plarn brigade sorts plastic newspaper bags to turn into plarn.

Arlington Public Art will exhibit the plarn installation on the Minuteman Bikeway as part of its ongoing Pathways initiative, which it started in 2017 to add more creative works to Arlington’s cultural district. Some contributors to Pathways project Ripple, a knitted and crocheted “yarn bomb” installation spearheaded by local artist/activist Adria Arch, are now turning their fiber art skills to plarn for this new project.

Holly crochets plarn.
Lougee (R) shows a volunteer how to crochet plarn.

In addition to adding another exhibit to Pathways, the project contributes to Arlington’s ongoing push for its residents to live more sustainability and reduce plastic waste. With Lougee’s guidance, the Plarning Brigade will keep trash out of the environment and use it to make something beautiful and thought-provoking.

More information about how to join the Plarning Brigade is available on the ACAC’s Arts Arlington website.

Different-sized knobs of blue plarn take shape during the workshop on January 25, 2020.
A “larva” from Lougee’s installation Timber! (2018) rests on the floor.
The colorful ends of newspaper bags litter the floor in the Fox Library community meeting room.
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History, Photos, Places

Minuteman Bikeway

The Minuteman Bikeway is a paved multi-use path that runs from the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge through Arlington and Lexington to Bedford. Both ends of the bike path connect to other paths, bike and otherwise — four at the Cambridge end and two in Bedford.

The bike path is a rail-to-trail path, which is to say that it’s built on the route left behind by disused train tracks. The MBTA closed the Lexington Branch commuter rail route in 1981, proposing an underground extension of the Red Line through Arlington to Route 128 , topped with a linear park and rail trail. Arlington residents voted against the Red Line extension, citing a fear of congestion and of outsiders entering the community. As a result, the state never built the Red Line extension. But in 1992, it built the Minuteman Bikeway. Some footage from the bikeway’s construction, dedication, and early life can be seen in this Arlington Public News video about the bikeway’s 25th anniversary.

The bikeway was popular from its inception, and traffic has only grown since then. It’s especially busy during the morning and evening rush hours. Arlingtonians and members of surrounding communities use it to walk their dogs, ride their own bikes or shared ones like the new Lime Bikes, jog, stroll on foot or in wheelchairs, rollerblade, and skateboard.

Arlington Public Art installed five temporary art projects on it as part of the Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture’s bid to get the area between Arlington Center and Capitol Square recognized as a cultural district.

In 2017, the town revamped Arlington Center‘s main intersection and added new features like a push-button crosswalk to make crossing through the Center safer for bikeway users. Cyclists generally say riding on the path is more pleasant and feels safer than using a bike lane on a road meant for cars, especially in comparison to the busy Mass Ave.

Brian Ristuccia, an Arlington resident and member of the Boston Bike Party Facebook group who’s been riding the bikeway almost every day for the past three years, says “It’s been a pleasant west-to-east trip completely bypassing peak commute automobile traffic congestion, noise, and pollution.”

Avoiding cars doesn’t promise total safety, however. A March 24 collision between two cyclists on the bikeway in Lexington resulted in the death of 71-year-old Cary G Coovert, according to the Boston Globe and raised concerns about bikeway congestion and users’ awareness of the ‘rules of the road’. Accidents involving only cyclists rarely kill anyone; a cyclist-car accident is much more likely to cause a death.

Despite the specter of the recent accident and complaints about police hassling people who use the path after 9pm, the bikeway remains well-loved, and traffic is picking up as the weather gets warmer.

Ristuccia, who uses the bikeway on weekdays to drop his daughter off at preschool and commute to his office, says “We ride year round rain, shine, or snow…Beautiful green trees in summer, colorful foliage in fall, and snow that stays pretty and white in winter.”

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