Art Project Featuring Old Bike Wheels Gives New Meaning to the Art of “Recycling”

A social enterprise in New Haven, Conn. has turned old bicycle wheels into stunning works of art, thanks to the talents of local artisans with developmental and physical disabilities.

East Street Arts, a social entrepreneurial arm of Marrakech, Inc., developed the project as a way to create a paid art opportunity for its artisans while supporting and promoting a circular economy. Eighteen artists and 19 community members worked together to create a wall-length fiber sculpture made of donated yarn, rattan, discarded chair cane webbing, and more than 30 reclaimed bicycle wheels.

The project was funded by a matching grant for $4,000 from the Connecticut Office of the Arts. Once the funding had been matched, all of the artists were compensated for their work on the sculpture.

Joseph and Ellen (last names withheld) were two of the artisans who helped create the sculpture.

The artisans wove colorful fabrics and materials through the spokes and frames of the bicycle wheels, creating a visual symphony of bright colors and textures. According to the Arts Council for Greater New Haven, the project “lent a whole new meaning to the art of ‘re-cycling.’”

“On one wheel, tight navy-blue yarn yanks the viewer in, delighting the eye as it pans out to splashes of sky-blue, turquoise and aquamarine,” an article on the Arts Council’s website explains. “On another, a fuzzy rainbow of color winks out, soft and light to the touch. On yet another, it’s a surprise to find wood, rattan and raffia woven into a tan-colored tire.”

East Street Arts often receives large amounts of donated yarn from locals who tried their hand at knitting but gave up. The Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op and the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop donated the bicycle wheels. Putting these discarded fabrics and wheels to good use reduces waste in landfills while showcasing the talents and work ethic of people who face barriers to securing employment, a key focus of Marrakech, Inc., located in Woodbridge, Conn.

The sculpture, located outside the East Street Arts building, was unveiled earlier this month in a public gathering attended by about 100 people, according to the New Haven Register.

According to the East Street Arts website, the organization is “dedicated to fostering the creation of art through artisan training programs, workshops and community interactions for persons of all abilities. East Street Arts was an idea that came directly from the individuals Marrakech supports. They wanted something different than what the traditional employment programs were offering. They wanted to do the thing they loved—art—and earn money for doing it.”

“We say all abilities,” noted Eric Ginnish, East Street Arts’ director of creative development. “The main goal is getting these artists some sort of income, and it was great seeing them work on the weaving.”

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