Here’s a scene, heading toward reality in the near future, that may portend real progress for artists and environmentalists. Old tires are stacked like rubberized skyscrapers at the Clark-Floyd landfill, just a stone’s throw from Deam Lake Park, while nearby, a group of accomplished glass artists is hard at work.
Granted, landfills are perhaps the last place you’d expect to find a burgeoning arts community. But that was before the Ohio Valley Creative Energy organization came into the picture. OVCE is moving forward on plans for a new arts facility adjacent to the Clark-Floyd landfill, and will unveil prospective designs for the structure on May 11-12 at the Cressman Center for the Arts in Louisville.
The planned facility, which the organization hopes to open by June 2009 at an estimated cost of $1.5 million to $2 million, will have a collection of studios and a gallery that let at least 30 glass, metal and clay artists create wares using landfill-harvested methane.
(Each pound of landfill waste generates three to six cubic feet of gas containing methane, a renewable energy source. OVCE will use the energy to create art. The process can reduce the typically high cost of production and excess natural gas use for the artists’ processes.)
In conjunction with the unveiling of plans, the Cressman Center will exhibit glasswork and sculpture from 17 nationally known artists. Architecture students from Sustainable Design Studio at the Miami of Ohio University School of Architecture have put together 11 design proposals for the new facility. Each will be shown at the reception, and there will be a ballot box so the community can weigh in on possible designs.
project is one of the most compelling examples of the value of working on projects that go beyond the role architects typically play in helping people find creative solutions to the larger environmental problems we face,” said Scott Johnston, the lead architect for the project and director of sustainable design at Miami University’s School of Architecture.
Louisville-area glassblower Lori Beck founded OVCE in 2005 to create a refuge for artists in a socially conscious and financially viable way for those struggling with studio costs that become exorbitant because of high energy demands. She estimates that using green-friendly methane can help save more than $80,000 annually in natural gas costs.
But Beck insists OVCE isn’t just about providing cheap fuel for artists; it is also a passionate study in sustainability. She stresses that many glass artists are trying to find environmentally sustainable methods for creating work.
“If studio designs and energy approaches don’t change in these crafts, they won’t survive,” she said. “The cost of energy is a huge part of this, but the depletion of these resources is the larger concern.”
The two-day unveiling and reception will include a May 12 glass demonstration from several distinguished artisans, including glass artist Matt Eskuche, whose work has been lauded by American Crafts Council. He will demonstrate alongside artists from Energy Xpress, a mirror organization of OVCE located in Burnsville, N.C. Eskuche’s recent work has been noted for its nuanced hand-blown creations depicting trash and discarded bottles.
McKinley Moore, an artist at Louisville’s Glassworks, characterizes the OCVE project as “explosive” in its potential to open doors for young and emerging artists.
“There’s nowhere else in the country — that I know of — where you find three glass studios downtown,” said Moore, who is heading the project’s glass program. “With the new
program at U of L, with Museum Plaza coming up, there will be more young artists looking for a place to make art. We’re hoping that a low-cost facility will enable people to make creative work as opposed to constantly being forced to look at their bottom line.”
Moore noted that high energy prices typically cost glassblowers upwards of $30 an hour in studio time, and $40-$70 an hour isn’t unheard of.
“The cost of studio time doesn’t leave a lot of room for mistakes,” he said.
Conversely, the OVCE project will provide studio space for around $300 a month, aided by the use of methane byproducts.
The OVCE project dovetails with efforts by others working with existing plans for the nation’s first Landfill-to-Gas commercial community in Clark County, Ind. Hoosier Energy’s collaboration with Clark County Rural Electric Member Cooperative will power the first Landfill-to-Gas project in the United States, generating electricity for more than 1,000 Southern Indiana homes from gas produced by the Clark-Floyd landfill. The LFG plan involves donating excess gas from the home-use power grid to OVCE to power the arts campus.
Going green is no longer considered the exclusive domain of the granola set, Johnston noted when speaking about how his architecture addresses environmental concerns.
“Every one of these buildings is a symbol in changing the way we think, because sustainability is increasingly part of our conversations in architecture,” he said. “And this building is a good way to talk about these issues, but by seeing the art and having community events like this, OVCE is already changing the way people perceive the issue, long before we ever start to build.”
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