Art from Scrap Teaches by Doing

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Building an electromagnetic crane

The Santa Barbara Independent, October 20, 1994

By Andrea Estrada

Imagine a zoetrope, a motorized stroboscope, and a Cartesian Diver teaching a bunch of school children basic elements of Physics. Now imagine those same children building said old-time scientific gadgets out of scrap material once destined for local landfills. Physicist Brian Rich did, and that's how the "Saturday Scientist" series at Goleta's Art from Scrap was born. Presented as a joint venture with Santa Barbara Science, the hands-on workshops for children ages six to 13 focus on a variety of scientific experiments, many of which require some kind of construction.

When he's not leading children on a quest for scientific knowledge, Rich follows his own at Santa Barbara Infrared. With a background in optics, he has no trouble dreaming up projects for the young scientists to do.

"I've been a hobbyist all my life," Rich explained. "I do the things that are interesting to me. I'm not trying to force-feed any particular body of knowledge, I'm just giving the kids experiments and tasks that give them something to think about."

The lesson plan for this Saturday's class centers on electric motors, with the children building their own from a wine bottle cork (found in great abundance at Art from Scrap), wire, a battery, and a magnet. The next class, November 5, will examine sound and pitch in a variety of experiments.

"We'll record and analyze sound patterns using an oscilloscope," Rich said. "We'll look at the wave shapes of different sounds and actually see what our voices look like. Then we'll make a musical instrument." That's likely to be a set of Pan pipes, he said, because if there's one item Art from Scrap has plenty of, it's plastic pipe.

Aptly referred to as the "Imagination Mart," Art from Scrap has been open to the public for three years. Its purpose, according to Joanne Hollister, who has been involved with the program since its inception, is to provide "environmental education and a greater understanding of conservation and recycling through art workshops using discarded materials."

Proving that one person's trash is another person's treasures, Art from Scrap is a one-stop shopping source for items as diverse as fabric and wallpaper scraps; Plexiglas, cardboard tubes; test tubes; and petri dishes - not to mention bottles of all shapes, sizes and colors; film canisters; unused paint cans, and the plastic shavings from roller-skate wheels (which make great jellyfish). Every scrap of material has come from Santa Barbara County and was diverted from landfills. Any of it can be yours for as little as $6 a bag.

To further its educational aims, Art from Scrap has partnered with the county Office of Education to host field trips for the public schools in hopes of expanding children's awareness of the importance of conservation. During the 1993-94 school year, more than 3,000 children from schools in the county participated in environmental education and art workshop field trips.

With a meager budget that includes only $22,000 from public funds, Art from Scrap has had an enormous impact on the quality of environmental education. It received the 1994 Waste Prevention Award from the California Resource Recovery Association, and has been nominated for the Renew America National Environmental Award, which is given to "programs that provide working solutions to pressing environmental problems." In addition, Art from Scrap is quickly becoming a model for other counties and states. Representatives from as far away as Florida and Pennsylvania have visited Santa Barbara's facility looking to find out how they can establish their own programs.

Art from Scrap is located at 444 Love Place, off Hollister across from the airport. It is open every Thursday, 2 to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For information, call Hollister at 967-1350. To find out more about the Saturday Scientist classes, call Brian Rich at 687-9609.