Best of SA 2012 Critic Pick
Spare Parts: Imagination as Trash-eater
Published: April 25, 2012
Spare parts, sparepartstudio.org
Inspired by a lack of creativity in the K-12 classroom, the City's "Creating a Pathway to Zero Waste" 10-year plan, the positive economic impact of SA's thriving arts community, and a local increase in art degree offerings, Mary Elizabeth Cantu created spare parts, a green-minded organization that's adopted the mantra, "Trash is the failure of imagination." Coined by the influential California-based artist Aaron Kramer — who's famous for creating covetable works of art out of everything from discarded coffee stirrers and wood scraps to tin can lids and street-sweeper bristles — the motto is now encouraging mindful San Antonians to take recycling to the next level, and it's all thanks to Cantu: an SA native who's worked with practically every local arts institution you can think of.
Cantu (recently honored with North East ISD's Friend of Art Award) made us spare parts converts from her very first email (subject line: "Keepin' the arts trashy in San Antonio - teens, artists, and local businesses") and her drives have elicited donations from Plastic Supply of San Antonio, the McNay, even Crayola. But her big breakthrough came at an inaugural Fine Arts & Arts Materials Teacher Fair last August, where 80 teachers — who normally have to foot the bill for art supplies out of their own pocket — were able to connect their schools with organizations offering arts- and culture-related services, as well as an area stocked with free art supplies and materials ranging from the traditional to the out of the ordinary. The sentiment of participating teachers was captured on the sign-up sheet, where one teacher wrote, "My school is a Title One school. This means the majority [of students] are in dire financial need. These kids don't have much, but when I can incorporate art, their passion for learning grows." Cantu estimates the materials and supplies distributed that day alone reached 20,000 students across San Antonio.
We figured the toilet paper rolls we saved up for her would become DIY kaleidoscopes, but their destiny is bigger than that. A group of St. Paul Catholic School students inspired by the viral video "Caine's Arcade" (Nirvan Mullick's short film and resulting flash mob surrounding a functioning cardboard arcade by a child in East L.A.) are determined to build their own arcade with them.
The St. Paul students will be joined by other spare parts club members, including students from the Henry Ford Academy, at "Art on the Spot" (creating an "on-site masterpiece utilizing top-secret reusable materials") and "What the Fork?" (a plastic-fork-repurposing challenge) at Pie to the People 2, a free event presented by SMART (Supporting Multiple Arts Resources Together) on May 5 in La Villita's Maverick Plaza.