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Refuse, Reduce, and Reuse through Public Art

Artist Sarah Myers Brent sculpts with garbage in the hopes we’ll consider “zero waste” practices.

By Jewish Arts Collaborative

Published May 13, 2024

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Sarah Myers Brent has always been interested in texture and material in her artwork, but it was having kids and becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of “stuff” they require and acquire that made her focus her artwork on encouraging zero-waste practices.  

“I have since volunteered at my town swap shed and am again overwhelmed by the amount of stuff the transfer station processes and the objects deposited at the shed. At the same time, I love the story behind these objects and think the textures and colors make fascinating art.” 

Sarah’s Be the Change tzedakah box illuminates the concept of zero waste- with the goal of showing ways in which we can upcycle, recycle, and give new life to objects that might otherwise be considered waste. By acting as a space to swap materials, Sarah hopes that this zero-waste sculpture will create intrigue— to make people think about small actions they make in their daily lives along and connect with a larger actions that address the source of the pollution. 

The top of the box features a visual array of repurposed items sourced from Sarah’s home and community: food waste containers, laundry jugs, toys, electronics, and clothing. They look as if they are growing out of the top of the box and starting to cascade down. This cascade is contrasted with “flowers and vines.”  

The front of the piece is decorative plexiglass, opening up to a swap shop where participants can take or leave an item. At each tour stop, the tzedakah box will be stocked with small toys, games, sports equipment, and more from the plethora of discards in Sarah’s collection. A row of shelves behind the plexiglass will display the items in an appealing way like those at a store, leading us to intrigue and discussion of the lifespan of the many objects we encounter on a daily basis. 

Did you know that the U.S. produces more than 12% of the planet’s trash, though it is home to only 4% of the world’s population? 

To encourage action and learning, Sarah will also share statistics about trash and the planet, helping us all understand how we can make positive change to the environment by considering ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle. 

Stay tuned as Sarah’s vision comes to life in the form of her Be the Change tzedakah box, scheduled to go up in The Fenway this August. Check out Sarah’s work at Chase Young Gallery located in downtown Boston.

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