St. Louis artists plan to unveil two public art installations in the next couple weeks to draw attention to rampant illegal dumping in the Dutchtown neighborhood.
Artist Shea Brown is building a "meditation and serenity station" made out of plastic bags that will be located at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Liberty Street. Another artist, Ann Johnson, is building a garden-inspired archway out of plastic barbecue-sauce jugs that will be illuminated by LED lights.
The Dutchtown South Community Corporation commissioned the two projects as a part of its public outreach campaign called "So Fresh, So Clean, So Creative Southside St. Louis" to reduce waste in the neighborhood.
The organization received a $120,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency in October 2016 to launch the initiative. It aims to inform residents on how to report instances of illegal dumping, which are the highest in the Dutchtown, Walnut Park East and Wells Goodfellow neighborhoods, according to data from the city's Citizens' Service Bureau. Much of the waste, which include mattresses, furniture and construction debris, come from people outside of the neighborhood, said Sunni Hutton, community development manager at the Dutchtown South Community Corporation.
"It's insane what we are finding," Hutton said. "I walk or bike to work and the other day, I found two cars dumped in vacant lots — and one of them was on fire."
Hutton's also worried about the impact it's having on residents.
"People in the neighborhood, we have to deal with it for long periods of time," Hutton said. "And who knows? It could easily seep into the soil, seep into our groundwater, and we have to deal with the negative health impacts of that."
The meditation space will be built and open to the public on April 7.
Brown has been collecting plastic bags from friends and family, collection bins at grocery stores and other sources to turn them into Moroccan-style meditation cushions. She breaks down the plastic into yarn-like strips, which she calls "plarn," and crochets the cushions using lark's head knots. Then, the cushions are filled with plastic bags, scraps, bottles and sand.
"It can serve as a space for wanting to come and relax," Brown said. "Or come do yoga. It's going to be something that's multicolored because all the different types of plastic come together. It's going to be appealing to the eye so it's visually beautiful."
Brown has been using plastic for several years to make sleeping mats for the homeless. The sleeping mats and the cushions that will go into the upcoming installation were made with help from people who attend her workshops, which she calls "plarn parties." "Plastic is a beast," Brown said. "An average family takes home 1,500 plastic bags in a month's time. We're trying to come up with a way to do something different or upcycle the waste and also educate residents on ways to kind of help keep some of this plastic out of our system."
In designing the "Dutchtown Archway," which will be located at the historic Melvin Theater, Johnson also noticed the enormous amount of plastic waste that's generated on a regular basis. The jugs she's using for the project came from the barbecue restaurant Sugarfire.
"Even just collecting it for two weeks, it exceeded my expectations so much, like how fast all of it piled up," Johnson said.
Johnson's project will be built next week and will be unveiled on March 31.
St. Louis residents can report illegally dumped waste by calling the Citizens' Service Bureau.
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