Library of Creative Sustainability

Inspiring examples of sustainability outcomes achieved through artistic collaboration

Recycled Artist in Residence

Recycled Artist in Residence (RAIR)’s mission is to challenge the perception of waste culture by providing a platform for artists at the intersection of art, industry and sustainability. Situated inside Revolution Recovery, a construction and demolition waste recycling company in northeast Philadelphia, RAIR offers artists studio space and access to more than 450 tons of materials per day. In addition to the residencies, RAIR works on special projects with museums, schools and communities across Philadelphia.

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Project Description

The Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR) enables emerging, mid-career and established artists to work at the intersection of art, industry, and sustainability. Situated within Revolution Recovery, a construction and demolition waste recycling company, artists receive the opportunity to directly engage with industrial processes. The residents have access to over 450 tons of waste every day, which can be incorporated into their practice. Artists use the opportunity to develop their work whether in terms of formal sculpture and installation, film, photography, social and symbolic works, or in more activist research. 

The residency provides an understanding of waste disposal systems and provides a means of sustainable material sourcing. Residents are provided with private studios and a workshop with basic wood and metal working equipment. Participants have access to Recovery Revolution’s 3.5-acre recycling site when work is not in operation and with guided assistance, artists can utilise industrial equipment, such as forklifts and excavators, within their practice. RAIR also offers stipends to residents, funded through a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. 

In addition to accommodating residents, the organisation hosts tours of the facility, classroom seminars, public events and exhibitions to highlight their multidisciplinary projects, merging art with industry and sustainability. Through these collaborations the potential of these materials can be broadened, facilitating members of the public to re-conceptualise their relationship with waste. 

For Revolution Recovery the benefits of having the Recycled Artist in Residence programme operating within it are:

  • The Artist in Residence programme contributes to the ethos of Revolution Recovery affecting staff, customers and the image of the business;
  • The programme is part of the educational role of Revolution Recovery promoting sustainability and engaging local communities;
  • The Artist in Residence programme makes Revolution Recovery a more colourful business and is valued by stakeholders.
Lily Cox-Richard working on a copper cube

Artist in residence, Lily Cox-Richard working on her project

2016 resident Lily Cox-Richard’s project, Old Copper Futures, is concerned with urban mining and reclamation in the copper industry. RAIR provided an opportunity for Richard to refine and re-frame the work by following scrap copper as it moves through the waste stream and to create a more visible form through access to a metal baler enabling her to create three 1000 lbs bales of #2 scrap copper, and then to also make large scale drawings by taking rubbings from the baled copper. 

2017 resident Maria Möller used her residency to realise a project called One Last Time, a photo-based series about mortality, joy, and second chances. Developing a ritual that compares life cycles with waste cycles, Maria sourced six objects from household clean-outs and paired each one with a person in her life who is or has been close to their own mortality through age or illness. Maria worked collaboratively with each participant to stage a photo shoot during which the discarded object could fulfil its purpose ‘one last time.’ After each photo shoot, the participant travelled to the recycling centre to return their object to the waste stream. 

RAIR also undertakes various special projects in relation to the residency. These have included an exhibition entitled ‘Filthy Rich: Projects Made Possible by the Waste Stream’ and a research project with social scientists entitled ‘Digging Deeper: Field Studies Made Possible by the Waste Stream’. See the links below for more information on these projects.

Partners & Stakeholders

RAIR was started by Fern Gookin, project manager at Revolution Recovery and board director of Delaware Valley Green Building Council, who developed a thesis on how art can create awareness around the topic of sustainability. The residency was established with assistance from Avi Golen (co-owner of Revolution Recovery) and Billy Blaise Dufala (artist and professor at the Academy of Fine Arts). 

RAIR residencies are open to emerging, mid-career and established artists. Five artists per year have the opportunity to work with the resources at Revolution Recovery.

RAIR works with museums, schools and communities on special projects. For example, the exhibition Filthy Rich took place at the Galleries at Moore and RAIR created site-specific art work for Monument Lab.

RAIR has a jury (selection) panel for each annual cycle of residencies made up of artists, artist-educators and curators.

Sustainability Issues

  • RAIR allows the arts to make use of materials from construction and demolition waste streams, reducing the environmental impact of artistic creation. 
  • RAIR aims to create civic conversation through their projects, engaging communities and providing an understanding of sustainability related concerns.
  • Through publicly displayed, visual art, RAIR demonstrates the potential of recycled materials, promoting the practice of recycling and reusing as a positive and creative activity to audiences and participants.
  • RAIR offers support to artists throughout the process of material sourcing, designing, and planning to allow artists to create better informed work around the subject of sustainability.

Lessons, Tips & Advice

Recycled Artist in Residence developed through mutual interest. Artist Billy Dufula had been making art with waste and, having had the opportunity to see inside a waste processing facility, was interested in developing a partnership. Revolution Recovery became interested in the possibility of working with artists through Fern Gookin undertaking a master’s and writing a thesis on the subject, giving further impetus to the owners of Revolution Recovery.

Billy said in terms of lessons, tips and advice:

Firstly, the answer is ‘No’ if you don’t ask… 

Secondly, it’s vital to know how to be ‘personable’ and how to communicate outside your own networks and peers;

Thirdly, do something to show what you do – when I first worked with Revolution Recovery, as the first artist in residence, I saw how bad their holiday card was and over a weekend I turned a waste moving machine into a weird sort of Rudolf and sleigh. On Monday morning I got dressed up as Santa and drove it around the yard. Everyone loved it. We made a card. They knew that I could do something.

It’s vital to building relationships – strong relationships mean being able to cope with major change. The commodities crash in 2015 was a very hard time but we weathered it together.

Descendants of trash pickers and connoisseurs of the found object, wearing overalls and hard hats, and “interrupting the waste stream,” the RAIR artists turn trash into artwork of one sort or another, and challenge our perceptions of the discarded.”

Michael Lieberman, Artblog

Funding

Revolution Recovery supports RAIR artists with studio space, access to workshops, support with documentation, and administration of the programme. 

RAIR has secured support for stipends for artists on the residency programme from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

RAIR also accepts donations from organisations and the general public via its website and an annual ‘Trash Bash’ fundraising event. 

Special Projects have received funding from a wide range of Foundations, City Government and other sources:

  • The Galleries at Moore received funding from the Moore College of Art & Design and the Friends of The Galleries at Moore. The space also received a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. They also received support from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.
  • Digging Deeper was funded by a Pew Center for Arts & Heritage Discovery Grant.

Related Projects

Quotations

…the "Filthy Rich" show promotes RAIR’s organisational philosophy and truly demonstrates how partnerships can be the driving force behind sound resource management and successful implementation across all sectors. “It’s not just about the art, it’s about a way of living”. Gabrielle Lavin Suzenski, Metro
First of all, it was absolutely amazing to find a residency that wasn’t studio based, where I didn’t feel that I’d have to be making things in a studio because I don’t make things in a studio! So the pressure was off. And to be able to have the schedule be as long and as flexible as it’s been has been really great. It is so good to have that breadth of opportunities, and to let things unfold as they need to unfold. Maria Möller, artist in residence
It’s really an immersive space that begs viewers to look more closely at every object and to consider each detail, to think about its life and consider how what once was a piece of trash made this transformation into a work of art. Gabrielle Lavin Suzenski, acting director of the Galleries at Moore

All images courtesy of RAIR

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