AmeriCorps VISTA Mary Popa is sharing her skills with not only her host site, Rural Action’s social enterprise Community MakerSpace, at 751 West Union St. in Athens, but also with the Athens County community: This summer, Popa is curating an exhibition showcasing upcycled art at Majestic Galleries, at 20 Public Square in Nelsonville.
Exhibition submission is open to anyone who has made any upcycled art pieces, Popa said. Submissions are due by July 8 and the exhibition runs from July 28–Aug. 20. The gallery will host an opening reception on July 28, from 6–8 p.m.
“Upcycled art, aka creative reuse of otherwise discarded materials — essentially trash — is a movement toward education and awareness that these things have value and can be used to experiment, create, play, and even develop into larger ideas,” Popa explained.
Waste is a major part of everyday life, Popa said. “It always has and always will be.” According to Rural Action Zero Waste program Co-Director Maria Bonner, the program diverted 223,846 pounds — or 112 tons — of waste from landfills last year, including textiles from the Makerspace.
For Popa, so much waste is an opportunity to combat climate change and highlight the importance of art. “I believe art can serve as a medium to create beauty rather than just complain that the earth is on fire, and can inspire us to do something.”
She first learned about zero waste in 2019 — something she said changed her life.
“I started to realize my own footprint, log my waste, and ultimately change my lifestyle,” Popa said. “I did my senior thesis on municipal solid waste and its relation to the television and phone. It was an interactive exhibition where the user would be prompted to pick up a phone and listen as they watched a commercial at the same time.”
Popa especially appreciates experimenting with everyday objects. That sort of art, she said, is “extra low-stakes. If you mess up or don’t like it, you can just throw it away,” or preferably sort it into the proper recycling stream.
Popa has been a member of Majestic Galleries since 2020. As a co-op, everyone brings something different to the table. “In exchange for membership I clean the gallery,” Popa said. “Being a member at a gallery has allowed me to meet other artists and develop my professional art career. It is a great symbiotic relationship.”
Popa participates in a variety of upcycling activities. “I recycle plastic, glass, and most paper, but some cool boxes I pull out to use as covers for my books.” But as she began her zero-waste journey, she soon realized that she cannot keep it all.
“I am not a recycling facility, and if I don’t have a clear idea on what to do with the ‘trash,’ then I just have a bunch of stuff,” she said. “I like to save tiny pen caps, glue sticks, markers, and useless objects that one day I envision putting into a cement wall or walkway. It would add color, take up space, and keep them out of landfills and oceans.”
Through her work at the Makerspace, Popa has made the space more accessible, created a project wall for resident makers (see banner image), and helped with overall flow of materials in the space.
“It is inspiring to work around like-minded folks — people who upcycle their clothes, bags, and whatever they can,” Popa said. “The reuse mentality is contagious and a step in the right direction towards making a better world.”
Popa cited a quote from zero-waste chef Anne Marie Bonneau: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.“
To submit a piece for the Upcycled Art Show, email photos and descriptions of the piece(s), including name, date, title, price, and description to email@example.com.