When we set out on a collaboration for the 2014 80/35 Music Festival with Art Noir at the Des Moines Art Center, the goal was to find a way to creatively promote a more eco-friendly music festival, and get people's ideas going about the creative side of sustainability.
Inspired by Cup City, a sprawling 2500 square foot installation at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2005, we decided to invite festival-goers to insert their recyclable can or bottle into the festival's fence. Over two days, our evolving installation would be a way to visualize the waste stream created by the estimated 27,000 people who passed through 80/35 this year.
In addition, artist Legge Lewis Legge's original write-up of Cup City meditated on the relationship between the beverage containers and the festival's perimeter fence. Legge saw the relationship between the containers and fence as a commentary on power and control in our consumer society:
The dimensions of the chain link opening happen to coincide with the size of a typical disposable cup, bottle or can. This relation to the size of a typical human hand is no coincidence but rather a vernacular dimension derived from years of anonymous production of products, chain link mesh and the ubiquitous disposable beverage container. One is designed to deny the body’s engagement, the other to facilitate it. (Read the whole thing here.)
Urban Ambassadors focuses on helping people in our community follow their own path to sustainable living, so we incorporated oversize astronaut moonboot prints leading the way across the installation toward the festival's main gate. With 80/35's space theme, the moonboots also allowed us to point out the number of water bottles Americans purchase each year would form a tower that reaches the moon--13 times. Yet only a small fraction of this material is recycled.
The installation certainly allowed us to visualize the waste stream, including in ways we did not expect. First, it grew over time depending on the weather and the number of beverages people on site were purchasing to consume. But it also shrank--overnight, anonymous can collectors removed close to 1/3 of the material from the fence to offer for redemption. Their action was a reminder that even as festival guests discarded recyclable material, to others, it is still a valuable commodity.
The creativity of the Des Moines public was also on display. Many shapes and patterns spontaneously sprung up in the installation, and late Saturday, a young woman spontaneously re-arranged many of the cans into a variety of shapes, speaking to the joy and creativity of repurposing and reusing materials.
We have over 4 dozen photographs of the installation on Facebook and were happy to be picked up on social media, with highlights below. Urban Ambassadors extends our sincere gratitude to 80/35 and the Des Moines Music Coalition, as well as Art Noir, for helping us present the exhibition together with numerous volunteers and community members.