In many ways, 1990 saw the culmination of Santa Barbara’s great environmental awakening. After 20 years of lawsuits and lobbying, the United States Congress amended the Clean Air Act to give local jurisdictions control over the regulation of offshore oil drilling, a result clearly descended from Santa Barbara’s response to the 1969 oil spill. At the same time activists were celebrating this victory, a trio of women began their own form of environmental action from the back of a Volvo station wagon and out of a garage in Montecito.
Bari Romoy, Irene Falzone, and Lynn Seigel-Boettner founded Art From Scrap 30 years ago when creative reuse was a rare concept and upcycling wasn’t even a word yet. Sensing that the need for art materials for children’s school projects was not being met through traditional channels, these three women set out to discover what industrial Santa Barbara was throwing away and to imagine what artists might do with it. Combing through piles of refuse headed for the landfill, they discovered beauty in the odd bits left over after multiple projects and products were finished. As it turned out, the city contained hidden treasure troves of useful discards, from surplus paper and paint to objects such as silicone skateboard wheels that could become points of departure for assemblage artworks. Working together to scavenge, sort, and repurpose what they found, these women founded an organization and a way of looking at the world that continues to thrive 30 years later.
Although the pandemic precludes Explore Ecology from holding Art From Scrap’s annual fundraiser in person, there are multiple ways to support the work online, ranging from donating the suggested $30 to the “30 for 30th Campaign” to creating and uploading a short video about how you have taken advantage of this unique Santa Barbara resource. Although pandemic restrictions have curtailed the organization’s in-person operations, many of its services remain available, including an online store and weekly workshops for kids on Zoom. For Tara Patrick, the Creative ReUse Store Manager, keeping artists supplied with cool and unexpected materials is a labor of love that continues to inspire dedication and imagination three decades after the founding. She says that “it’s an honor to carry on the powerful mission and message” of Romoy, Falzone, and Seigel-Boettner.
On November 17, 2020, Mayor Cathy Murillo issued a proclamation recognizing the achievement of Art From Scrap, citing the ways in which it “has encouraged reuse as a way to protect the environment and has educated generations of children and adults about the importance of waste reduction, upcycling, recycling, and creative reuse,” and acknowledging the remarkable fact that “most children in Santa Barbara County have visited the Art From Scrap Creative ReUse Store on free field trips.” In addition to providing education about the benefits of recycling and reuse, the organization has, under the banner of “Explore Ecology,” expanded its programs in recent years to include coastal cleanup and watershed awareness opportunities.
For many artists in the region, Art From Scrap signifies something more than a place to stock up on supplies. Through its gallery programming and the workshops it offers, AFS provides a sense of community that cuts across boundaries of medium, method, and aesthetic. It’s a place where people come to see what’s new in what’s old, and what’s worth saving from the vast pile of things that we as a community still discard every day. Without Art From Scrap, Santa Barbara wouldn’t be the same, and neither would its art scene.
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