Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 4:33 pm | A Few Clouds 66º

 
 
 
 

Noozhawk Talks: Cay Sanchez, Don French Help Art From Scrap Frame 20 Years

Program a masterpiece showcase for environmental education

There’s a lot more to Art From Scrap than the common misconception that it is simply a place where “kids make things using little doo-dads and stuff that would otherwise go to a landfill,” explained board president Don French. Art projects are just the teeny tiny tip of the iceberg of the many, many programs that the nonprofit environmental education organization provides to the Santa Barbara community.

Currently celebrating its 20th year, Art From Scrap executive director Cay Sanchez and her board of directors have crafted a wide-reaching environmental education program. Now they’re on a quest to better communicate all of the things the organization does.

“We really are environmental education in Santa Barbara County,” said Sanchez, a Summerland resident who has been involved with Art From Scrap for the past two decades.

She’s not exaggerating.

Through partnerships with “almost every public and private school in the county,” Art From Scrap’s Green Schools program has helped more than 151,500 local elementary school students understand how environmental topics are all interconnected and how their own actions can help improve — or spoil — the environment, says Sanchez.

“We reach 12,000 kids a year and while there is an art component to what we do, we have a broad educational program,” she said.

Hands-on lessons and field trip topics include reduce, reuse, recycle; school gardens and composting; and ocean and creek water quality.

“It’s an extensive program about what pollutes the creeks, how the creeks feed into the ocean, how that goes into the whole ocean system and over to the islands,” she explained. “It’s really an interesting program; kids love it and it’s not art.”

Other “not-art” programs include school gardens. As French explained, “people don’t associate us with school gardens very much, but we have had tremendous involvement for school gardens for a long time.” That involvement includes providing hands-on gardening and composting lessons to more than 18,000 local students, as well as teacher resources such as follow up lesson plans, seeds and plant seedlings, and a lending library.

“The way it all fits together is that we are environmental education and all the pieces fit in with that,” said Sanchez, an avid gardener. “We make it a fun way to learn about ecology rather than just having a dry education where you go into the kids and go blah blah blah.

“The art is a way also to get kids engaged. Then for the waste reduction it’s perfect, because we’re talking about reduce, reuse, recycle and then they get to reuse things that would otherwise go into landfill in a really fun way.”

“We talk to the kids about where did this come from, where is it going to go?” French said. “I think those kinds of activities are really good.”

“Which allows us then to talk about natural resources,” Sanchez interjected. “Truly we are introducing a lot of concepts that they should or do get in school and reinforcing them. Rather than just talking about the tiny little recycle piece, we try to put those things in a bigger context because truly that’s an education to make the connection.

“Not just training on this and this, but teaching them to think, so that when they get into a new situation they can think and make good decisions.”

“Which is why the program has that everything is connected,” said French. “We all make choices, everything ends up somewhere.”

The Watershed Resource Center at Arroyo Burro Beach, 2981 Cliff Drive, is another Art From Scrap program that provides water-quality education programs to schools. About 4,800 students visit the center each year to learn about the value of local watersheds, the sources of and solutions to water pollution, and the effects of plastic debris on the ocean.

The center is also the starting point for a beach cleanup the second Sunday of each month from noon to 2 p.m., which the public is encouraged to join.

“There are a lot of organizations that go out and get publicity when they go and do a beach cleanup,” French said. “We do them regularly and it’s quiet and it’s not as publicized.”

French, incidentally, was married to and divorced from Sanchez a couple of decades ago. They share three grown children (Bodine, 36; Cody, 34; and Carlene, 31), two granddaughters, as well as a mutual respect and passion for the environment and Art From Scrap’s environmental education.

“The amount that Cay and the staff people accomplish quietly is phenomenal and that to me was the biggest eye-opener here — even I didn’t realize how much stuff was going on,” said French, who also has an 18-year-old son, Carson, with his wife, Janet.

A professional graphic designer, French was first pulled into Art From Scrap many years ago when Sanchez asked him to design the logo. A UCSB graduate, Sanchez has been involved with the organization almost since its inception, using her background in accounting and bookkeeping to help guide and grow Art From Scrap from a “tiny little arts program” to what it is today.

Sanchez says her favorite thing about her job is the children.

“Kids, kids, definitely kids, that’s a huge thing,” she said. “Watching them learn, watching them be excited, watching them just jump in and not hesitate. I think our programs really do that. They draw the kids in and they don’t feel that they have so much a wrong or right answer as they’re just engaged.”

Art From Scrap does a variety of community art programs to engage even more people in environmental issues. In the past year alone, 4,700 students participated in Green Schools Waste Reduction education lessons and more than 3,000 people of all ages did free ReUse art activities at community events such as Earth Day, the Children’s Festival and Summer Solstice. Art from Scrap also partners with a number of different organizations to provide art activities for low-income children, families and teens, as well as at-risk youth, the homeless, the elderly and people with rehabilitation needs.

“The traditional nonprofit is going to be about keeping stuff out of the landfill; for clean oceans only,” French explained. “Whereas what we are trying to do is take the whole earth approach and say that these are all ecological centered programs.

“Environmental education programs and the art is something we use to engage children as much as anything else, and it’s a really good example of reusing material. And repurposing it.”

Repurposing material is, of course, probably the best-known piece of the program, which is the Art From Scrap Reuse Store, 302 E. Cota St. Sanchez says that 250 tons (500,000 pounds) of potential trash has been diverted from landfill by the store over the past 20 years. More than 325 business partners have contributed new items, such as obsolete packaging and manufacturing waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill. The store then provides free materials to schools to use in their art programs and is a favorite supplier for many local mixed-media and assemblage artists.

“The store really functions as a place to help divert things from the landfill and reuse them and repurpose them,” said French, also a UCSB graduate, who describes himself as a product of the environmental movement of the 1960s and ‘70s.

“I think the biggest thing I appreciate about Art From Scrap is the environmental message that’s going to children, because every year there is a new crop of children who don’t know about this and have to hear it,” he said. “Some of them are getting it at home and some of them are not. Some of them are maybe catching it from other media and messages but a lot of them are not, so it’s important for them to get that information. Even though we may be giving information directly to children a lot of the time, I think they’re taking it home to their parents as well.”

Click here for more information about how to participate in programs or contribute to Art From Scrap.

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieDinaberg.

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