By Marissa Willman
S.C.R.A.P. Gallery Executive Director Karen Riley wasn’t sure if her idea for a program that would promote awareness of environmental issues through art would succeed when she approached former Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson 15 years ago.
“We had a crazy idea and we took it to Supervisor Roy Wilson and he didn’t think we were so crazy,” Riley said.
Riley’s not-so-crazy idea netted her warehouse space at the Riverside County Fairgrounds in Indio, where thousands of students now visit each school year to learn about the environment, sustainability and creativity.
“What we like to stress is the four R’s, which are reduce, reuse, recycle and responsibility,” Riley said. “It’s up to us to take care of the planet and we can do that by recycling, reusing and reducing our trash. We do that in a fun way.”
Through youth education, Riley hopes students will not only take their knowledge with them as they become adults but educate their parents about recycling, as well.
“Usually, [the students] get it right away,” Riley said. “What happens is they go home and they educate their parents and their families and that’s really what we want.”
A field trip to the S.C.R.A.P. Gallery typically starts with a tour of the facility, where students are encouraged to ask questions about the various recycled art installations found in the warehouse. After watching an educational video, students are let loose to dig through mounds of recycled materials to create their own recycled masterpieces with the guidance of Riley and her artist-in-residence, Ashley McNeely.
“We don’t tell them what to make,” Riley said. “We’re just here to help.”
The gallery hosts students from kindergarten to 12th grade and Riley has seen students create everything from small posters to giant wire hangers sculptures.
The S.C.R.A.P. Gallery is known around the valley for its “Recycle Bicycles” program, which is done every April for Earth Month. Artists and students transform otherwise scrapped bicycles into art installations seen at the Indian Wells Arts Festival, throughout the Coachella Valley and at the S.C.R.A.P. Gallery Warehouse in Indio.
S.C.R.A.P. Gallery also works closely with schools on a variety of projects. Recently, the organization worked with 6th graders at Nellie N. Coffman Middle School in Cathedral City to create an event for World Water Day where students participated in art projects and science experiments.
Currently, Riley and the S.C.R.A.P. Gallery are working with 3rd grade classes in Cathedral City and Hawaii to create a cross-cultural conservation program focusing on turtles and tortoises. The Hawaiian class has participated in cleanups of sea turtle habitats while the Cathedral City class has done the same with desert tortoise habitats. The classes have educated each other on their native creature and are creating artwork using materials from the cleanups.
The gallery is also working on a mural for the Thousand Palms Library using student drawings as the theme. Workshops will be held where students can work on tiles and other smaller pieces for S.C.R.A.P. Gallery to install.
Riley hopes her organization can continue to educate valley youth on the importance of caring for the environment.
“As long as we can tie in the environment, we’re game art-wise,” Riley said.