Cary Creative Center

Turning Waste into Beautiful Art

Throw-Away Society

Waste. It's not something most of us normally think about, but where does it all go? In the United States, we generated over 251 million tons of trash in 2006, as recorded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Most of this trash goes to landfills, with the remainder either incinerated or recycled. The amount of waste worldwide has doubled since 1960, and is predicted by the World Bank to rise by 70 percent by 2025.

Is this a really a big deal? YES. Gas from landfills contributes to a fourth of all methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that's released into the atmosphere. Waste management is also incredibly costly, and it is causing crises for governments all over the world. The effects of waste accumulation often hurt the poorest members of society and lead to serious health and environmental problems. The Cary Creative Center, or C3, is an organization working to save materials from the landfill by turning them into beautiful art.

Creative Reuse: A Universal Language

Betsy Dassau, C3's founder and executive director, believes in the power of art. Founded just four years ago, C3 has used the power of art to touch the lives of more than 250,000 people, while also teaching about the importance of getting creative about the issue of waste in America. C3 educates children in schools, exhibits at community art crawls, and partners with other organizations to host community art projects, all using recycled materials to create works of art. As Dassau says, "One of the things we say about art is that it's a universal language. Anybody can do it if they are just introduced to it and are not pressured to create something that isn't their own. That creative expression really goes down into people's souls and makes them aware of what enhances their lives every day."

C3 will exhibit at art crawls, bringing recycled materials or materials it has rescued from the landfill, and allow people to come by and let their creative expression run wild. Anyone from professional artists to average passersby can come to the booth and do a "make and take," where they create a collage or sculpture that they can take home, what Dassau calls "instant art." By tackling the issue of waste in America through creative expression, C3 is able to reach community members on a deeply personal level. Dassau describes how one of these "instant artists" was moved: "One couple — worked on their two different collages for better than half an hour, and as they were leaving, the gentleman picked up his artwork and started walking away. As he left, the wife leaned over to me and said 'thank you,' because the man's daughter had just passed away, and it was the first time he had gone out and even was interested in anything."

Getting Creative with the Help of Technology

When she began her small organization, Dassau immediately called on TechSoup to get the operation off the ground. She requested donations of both Microsoft Office and QuickBooks for nonprofits. This technology is used constantly, and in an organization with only one full-time staff member, it can be essential to daily operations. QuickBooks helps keep the organization's accounting information available when board members or community members ask. For an organization almost completely run by volunteer efforts, having the right technology in place is crucial, says Dassau. "[If] we didn't have the computers here and didn't have the right programs to enable them to be able to do these jobs, they wouldn't volunteer with us."

Part of a Movement

The waste problem in America is a real one, and one that in many ways can be daunting. The Cary Creative Center has found a way to make a solution to this issue both fun and impactful. Reusing materials in creative ways has been going on forever, but it has taken on the name upcycling since the 1970s.

This story originally appeared on the TechSoup Blog. It was written by Wes White of TechSoup.