Art can be a great force in raising social awareness of important issues, like single-use plastics. The striking installation piece titled 1500 Bottles a Second was designed by environmental artist Melanie Ariens and made collaboratively by University School-Milwaukee (USM) students and art teachers. It was on display in our Center’s Great Hall from July 21 through July 25, 2019. The work calls attention to the environmental issues caused by single-use plastic bottles. We are happy to give a platform for such a discussion.
Deb Kern and Doug McDonald of Black Box Fund, the sponsor of the project, proposed to USM the idea of an art piece designed to highlight plastic bottle waste. Sarah Markwald, art teacher at USM who worked on the project, said the goal was to create a sculpture using 1500 water bottles to raise awareness of single-use plastics. 1500 Bottles a Second exposes how many bottles are used per second in the US.
Sarah worked with USM art teachers Christina Dresang, Marja Konkol, Rebecca Steinbach, Jessica Michels and Priscilla Woods to come up with a concept. “We liked the idea of creating a water bottle, pouring water made out of water bottles as the overall structure. We felt this would have the greatest impact in sending our desired message,” Sarah said. They then collaborated with Melanie Ariens to design the sculpture.
A Piece of Grand Scale
Once it was understood how to construct the sculpture, teachers and over 400 USM students, ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade started building it. They used a range of materials, including 1500 plastic bottles gathered from our local environment. They also used recycled soda barrels from Lakefront Brewery for use as the armature and recycled pallet plastic. It is a massive 10-foot piece, featuring the large hanging bottle pouring water made from bottles cut into spirals, plastic, and 800 blue lights through its spout. When all put together, the scale of this artwork is impressive.
Art for Education
1500 Bottles a Second is both art and educational tool. From its conception to its creation, the teachers who worked on it have involved their students in discussions about plastic bottles and their effects on the environment. They also talked about what the students can do to make a difference at school and at home. That educational message surrounds the sculpture by virtue of its design and materials.
Schlitz Audubon supports the project’s message, which can be seen in our education and conservation efforts. We work with organizations like Alliance for the Great Lakes that actively facilitate cleanup efforts in Lake Michigan. We also teach conservation principles in our programming, including our All Day Great Lakes program. To align our values with action, we installed a water bottle filling station. Educating the public about the pollution caused by plastic bottles fits with our mission.
Schlitz Audubon is excited to be a host for the display of 1500 Bottles a Second. The sculpture is a traveling installation piece that has already been shown at the Milwaukee County Zoo and all three branches of the Urban Ecology Center. When viewers see the sculpture, they are impressed with its scale and design and resonate with the powerful conservation message contained in the work.
Visitors were able to see 1500 Bottles a Second in the Center’s Great Hall from July 21 through July 25, 2019. Visitors who informed our Welcome Booth staff they came to view the sculpture had their admission fee waived.