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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Events, People, Photos

Everything is Free and Zero Waste Arlington

On a crisp, sunny day in early November, Arlingtonians gathered in Thompson Elementary School in East Arlington. Some walked in empty-handed or toting shopping bags, while others brought in broken bicycles, torn clothing, or dysfunctional toasters.

Everyone was there for a joint event put on by Zero Waste Arlington (ZWA) and Sustainable Arlington in conjunction with other local waste-reduction organizations. The school gym was stacked with donated clothes for a clothing swap organized by Everything is Free Arlington (EIF Arlington). Across the hallway in the cafeteria, Fixit Clinic had set up a space for people to repair their broken belongings.

EIF Arlington is a Facebook group, one of a set of Everything is Free groups originally started by Medford resident Amanda Sulham to make it easier for Medford moms to swap items and parenting information. A post by Veronika McDonald King, one of the moderators, describes EIF Arlington’s goal: “[T]o build a better Arlington with a stronger community through giving, sharing, and caring.”

EIF Arlington primarily operates through individual listings, where a group member will make a post saying they have items to give away or that they’re looking for a specific item. But the group has also collected donations of clothes, shoes, and accessories to host several clothing swaps where anyone, group member or not, can come by and take things for free. It’s a great way to get rid of unwanted clutter without throwing things way and to update one’s wardrobe without the stress of sticking to a budget or the guilt of buying new.

The other entities at the event were also promoting ways to cut down on waste and give potential trash a new life. Zero Waste Arlington, a town government committee that, as the name suggests, is seeking to shift Arlington’s waste production closer to zero, had a table set up with information about how Arlingtonians can reduce, reuse, and recycle…as well as refuse (buy fewer items in disposable packaging), and rot (compost food scraps).

ZWA coordinated with Fixit Clinic, an organization that stages “pop-ups” where volunteers known as Fixit Coaches help people fix stuff they would otherwise throw away.

Ray Pfau reattaches a toaster’s cover with the help of its owner.

Ray Pfau, who organizes events through Fixit Clinic and Repair Cafe (a similar organization) out of Bolton, Massachusetts, was there with a small squad of these coaches. They set up stations at Thompson’s cafeteria tables, with supplies for everything from woodworking and soldering to jewelry repair and bicycle tune-ups.

Amos, one of the Fixit Coaches, said that specialized technical knowledge is not a requirement to volunteer, hence “coaches” rather than “repairpeople”.

“It’s more about the willingness to try taking something apart,” Amos said. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? If the item was destined for the trash anyway, failing to fix it isn’t such a big deal.

This event saved hundreds of clothing items and dozens of household items from winding up in a landfill. Locals interested in attending similar events in the future can look for updates on ZWA’s Facebook page and Bolton Local’s website.

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