Students create art with recycled materials. Photo by Chris Castillo.

Art makes your child smarter. Yes, it’s true. In early childhood, simple creative activities include the building blocks of child development: motor skills, language development, and visual learning to name a few. Participation in art classes by students in grades K-12 has proven to have a powerful influence on learning by encouraging creativity, developing critical intellectual skills, strengthening non-verbal communication skills, and helping children learn collaboration.

According to The Texas Cultural Trust (TCT) 2015 “State of the Arts Report” middle school students who took more art classes show positive testing results and increased graduation rates.

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And besides – art is fun.

Over the past decade, support for the arts in public schools has decreased as the Texas legislative budget continues to cut funding for the “luxury” courses. Brooke Cru, a reporter for stated it this way: “In Texas, the predominance of high-stakes testing (STAAR) has further overshadowed the need for arts education.”

Several area schools elementary and middle schools have spare parts themed art clubs once a month. Photo by Chris Castillo.
Several area schools elementary and middle schools have spare parts themed art clubs once a month. Photo by Chris Castillo.

The resulting dearth of art activities and resources in schools and the belief in necessary role of art in education is precisely the reason Mary Elizabeth Cantú founded spare parts in 2011. Her idea of providing cultural and environmental sustainability, affordability and accessibility to the arts through education has taken a firm hold in the San Antonio area arts and education community. To further its mission, Cantú became a certified Master Reuser under the Reuse Institute — the first person in San Antonio to earn this designation, resulting in spare parts becoming San Antonio’s leader in creative reuse education.

Making art is good for your brain. Making art with creative reuse is good for the environment.

Cantú explains creative reuse. “It is the creative act of reusing or repurposing items and materials before discarding or even recycling. It is also the solution for sustaining arts education in our communities and schools. Curriculum specialists, education departments and teachers can develop lesson plans utilizing creative reuse that align with national and state arts standards. Instead of buying new, for example, watercolors can be made from dried-up markers and theater costumes can be designed from second-hand clothing. Arts education through the practice of creative reuse can be the model for how other content areas incorporate sustainable learning through environmental awareness, too,” she said.

Dellview elementary school art club created a “reuse” tree and pledged to make changes in the way they approach “trash.” Photo by Chris Castillo.
Dellview elementary school art club created a “reuse” tree and pledged to make changes in the way they approach “trash.” Photo by Claudia Pena Martinez.

Truth is: there is no such thing as throwing something away. Creative reuse keeps perfectly usable materials from our landfills, saves money, strengthens divergent thinking, builds partnerships within communities and is tons of fun.

For the past four years, spare parts hosted an opportunity for teachers to choose from among an impressive array of free reusable and eclectic supplies for their classrooms. In addition, lesson plans and demonstrations are available for sparking ideas on how to use some of the items for classroom projects.

Last year’s highly successful spare parts 4th Annual Fine Arts Fair at Wonderland of the Americas Mall, teachers from schools all across San Antonio lined up in anticipation of grabbing the materials with the most potential to generate create “trash to treasure’”art.

“I’m always on the lookout for the unusual stuff,” Nimitz Middle School art teacher Eric Cavazos said. “Getting materials from spare parts annual giveaway changed the way I approach my lesson plans. The ‘not every day’ materials are a starting point for integrating into new and edgy art projects that the kids really get excited about.”

Several of the teachers I spoke with like to use this “trash” in the classrooms to make a point.

“Most of these students have grown up in a ‘disposable’ society,” said Dedra Espinoza, art teacher at Southwest Preparatory. “Our art projects often include a lesson on ecological basics – where do these items come from, where they go when they are thrown away and how that does impacts the environment. Then they get creative turning the items into something useful.”

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We are excited to announce the 5th Annual Fine Arts Fair is set for July 31. The materials giveaway event is once again generously hosted by Wonderland of the Americas. Teachers should plan to register early as this is always a “sold out” event. Because of the abundance of materials and supplies collected, this year spare parts is opening registration to local artists, too. Registration is $5.

As spare parts’ influence in the San Antonio community continues to increase, more educational and creative opportunities are available. Visit the spare parts website for more information how you can bring spare parts to your school or organization, volunteer or donate.

*Featured/top image: Students create art with recycled materials. Photo by Chris Castillo. 

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Laura Carter

Laura Carter is a writer, blogger, social media maven, and nonprofit advocate. A communications professional, she is currently working with Blessed Sacrament Academy on Mission Road developing their communications/development...