Come on, it wasn’t that long ago that when you looked at a large packing box, instead of seeing trash you saw a spaceship, a racecar or maybe even a dragon. Your room was strewn with yogurt container telephones, egg-crate frogs and a myriad of sock-puppets. In those days, every discarded object could have new life breathed into it – the possibilities were limited only by your imagination.

It is a seemingly simple concept, then, to take materials that would have normally been thrown away and use them for art supplies. Art From Scrap, however, has taken this idea, super-sized it, and created a unique program for Santa Barbarans. In 2002, Art From Scrap will be working hard to become even more visible in the community and convince adults that these projects are not just for kids.

“We are starting an adult art workshop in the evenings,” Art From Scrap director Cay Sanchez said. “We are working … with a group called Santa Barbara Visual Art artists. They are having something called Art Primavera, which is going to be a bunch of different art events going on throughout the month of May. We are also putting together a recycled art show and sale.”

Located on the lower east side, Art From Scrap is housed in a large warehouse space – and is a veritable treasure trove of knickknacks. Inside, hundreds of barrels are lined up in regimental form, each decked out in full regalia and containing mass quantities of unwanted items. Belt buckles happily coexist with test tubes, and piano hammers can be found in the next bin over from chemical assay cups. Reams of fabric clutter the aisles, and colorful streamers hang from the ceiling.

Even on a bleak winter morning, the space has a festive quality, like every day is Summer Solstice or Halloween. Perhaps that is why Art From Scrap has become such a fixture at many of the county’s biggest events; their handiwork can be seen everywhere from Solstice floats to Earth Day installations.

“We do lots of children’s events,” Sanchez said. “The Family Services Agency has a children’s festival every year, so we [set up a booth] there. We do Cinco de Mayo … and the air show out in Goleta. This town is jammed with events and we will go out with materials, a project in mind, and set up tables.”

Art From Scrap is a program created by the Community Environmental Council, a nonprofit organization that formed in response to Santa Barbara’s 1969 offshore oil platform blowout. The CEC has made tremendous strides in its 30-year existence, particularly in the area of recycling. In 1975 the CEC opened the first nonprofit recycling center in the state. Its Art From Scrap program was actualized as an innovative way to provide waste reduction education for schoolchildren and the general public within a creative environment.

“The creativity component is really important here,” Sanchez said. “We don’t tell kids what they are going to be making. When they come here they see really unusual things that they maybe wouldn’t associate with art right off. So a lot of creativity is involved in them actually seeing how to make the stuff into something. To experience the creative process really helps people to learn.”

Art From Scrap is a multifaceted program. The staff and volunteers run an arts and crafts materials reuse store, a waste reduction education program and art workshops. Of course, the mission for each is the same: to encourage people to reduce, reuse and recycle.

“Even downstairs [in the art supply store] there is a lot of passive education with people that come in, because we explain where the stuff comes from and what the purpose of us having it is,” Sanchez said. “We have educational information all over the place … explaining what our mission is.”

As an environmental education organization, Art From Scrap has been highly successful with about 15,000 Santa Barbara County schoolchildren coming into contact with the program every year. It offers field trips and in-class presentations for grades K-6, and supplies art materials for county schools. This education initiative is achieved while also keeping thousands of pounds of clean materials from ending up in the county landfill.

Every Saturday the program runs an art workshop in the morning for a small fee. Last Saturday, the children were taken on a nature walk and then made art pieces back at the center from found materials. Staff member Ruby Head said that kids can be educated about waste reduction just by observing how much trash exists.

“They were connecting with nature in knowing what we shouldn’t leave behind and thinking about what we could do to help,” Head said. “Sometimes there can be a lot of education just from [the kids’] questions.”

With only two full-time and four part-time staff members, Art From Scrap relies on a large volunteer base, many of which are high school students needing community service hours. In its old location near Santa Barbara Airport, Art From Scrap received a great deal more attention from UCSB students, with many volunteering their time or becoming involved in an internship program. In its downtown location, however, student involvement has declined and Sanchez hopes this will change in 2002.

“We will take any kind of volunteers. Some people just want to drop in occasionally. Some people want to have a regular schedule. As far as volunteering, it’s fine if it’s pretty loose,” Sanchez said. “Anyone that comes in anytime we can find something for them to do.”

Art From Scrap is located at the corner of Cota and Garden Streets. The store is open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The art workshops are held every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. For more information about the adult art workshops, volunteering or donating materials, call 884-0459.