Reducing, reusing and recycling at The Art Department with Amber Art

At The Art Department in Fishtown, the renovated deli storefront serves many functions – including acting as an exhibition space, a small boutique selling original handmade goods, and a learning destination that hosts art-making workshops and DIY tutorials. On Friday, January 9th, Amber Art & Design provided refuge from the chilly January weather with the opening of “Table Alchemy,” which serves as a continuation and expansion of The Village Table project, part of the Knight Arts grantee residency SPACES at The Village of Arts and Humanities.

A recipe box for The Village Table on a freshly reworked table made from scrap wood.

In the center of the room rests a freshly planed and sanded hardwood tabletop with plates of food and drink for visitors. Assembled from discarded scraps of wood salvaged from the garbage outside of the artists’ studio, the handsome countertop defies its past as landfill fodder by proving that one person’s trash is indeed another person’s treasure. At one end of the table, a suggestion box and pile of recipe cards sits at the ready so visitors can contribute to the ongoing Village Table dialogue. Participants are asked to submit recipes that will serve as starting points for healthy community meals focused on local plant-based ingredients and nutrition education.

Linda Fernandez, "Corner Store Mandala."

Linda Fernandez, “Corner Store Mandala.”

The bright colors of Amber Art’s other upcycled creations draw attention to other, similar dilemmas facing urban communities. With fresh produce and grocery stores sometimes entirely missing from the map in locations like the poorer areas of Philadelphia, turning to corner stores for meals is sometimes the primary option. Not only is much of the processed food high in calories and low in nutrition density, but the excess packaging and waste that goes along with these products makes them even more harmful. Anyone who has seen empty plastic bags and food wrappers blowing down city streets knows the problem, but by layering these pieces of packages into colorful artworks such as Linda Fernandez’s “Corner Store Mandala,” we become more aware of the scope.

Upcycled plastic bag yarn can be used to crochet all sorts of new items.

Upcycled plastic bag yarn can be used to crochet all sorts of new items.

Perhaps it is fairly easy to see how old boards can be reworked into a table, but the trash left behind from potato chip bags and candy wrappers is much more difficult to nail down. One corner of the room stretched with nets and throw rugs demonstrates functional methods for reusing plastic grocery store bags that otherwise tangle their way into storm drains and oceans and never biodegrade. But the primary message here is that – among the three R’s of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – reduction is first for a reason. Healthy eating is important for individuals, but remember to take a reusable canvas bag along to the store to avoid excess waste.

Linda Fernandez will be hosting a workshop at The Art Department on Tuesday, January 13, at 6 p.m., where she will demonstrate how to transform old shopping bags into plastic yarn, which can then be crocheted into all manner of new items. Stop by to learn a thing or two about upcycling, and don’t forget to bring a recipe for The Village Table, too!

The Art Department is located at 1638 E. Berks St., Philadelphia; [email protected]