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Flushing Earth Day festival fuses art with environment

Costumed performers put on a traditional Caplulli Mexican dance. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

Artists are natural recyclers, whether they are reappropriating materials or ideas, and on Sunday a few gathered at Flushing Town Hall’s Earth Day Festival for Families to show how culture and environmentalism converse with one another.

“It’s a natural fit,” said Gabrielle Hamilton, director of education and public programs at Flushing Town Hall, at 137-35 Northern Blvd. “Artists are always extremely creative. They’re looking for new materials, and because of limited funding they do often turn to recycled materials.”

“For the artists here, this is not a one offer,” she added. “This is how they approach and engage their work every day.”

One of those artists was Hector Morales, who uses found objects — a water cooler jug, pots and pans, plastic bottles filled with rice — to create music, the rhythms themselves recycled through past cultures.

“I think this is how music started — using the sounds of the body, rocks, branches ... anything humans have around them,” he said as he stomped his feet, tapping out an infectious beat on two pans he held in his hand. “We continue to do it today. We reuse as many things as possible. My wife was throwing these away.”

A few young visitors stared mesmerized as Morales, a Peruvian native, tapped on the side of an empty coffee can, then slid a stick up and down its ridges. Morales said the rhythms he incorporated originated hundreds of years ago in West Africa and migrated through the Middle East to Peru.

He handed a shaker he had made to a young boy, who delighted at being part of the musical composition.

“It connects with their everyday life,” explained Morales, a teaching artist active in Queens schools. “They probably thought it was only a coffee can, but once they get a stick and hit it, they discover a universe of sounds.”

On the town hall’s second floor, Calpulli Mexican dancers put on a traditional performance from the Michoacán region, the destination and breeding ground of monarch butterflies migrating south each year from Canada.

“The premise of Earth Day is to call a focus to the environment, and the health of butterflies and bees is crucial to the planet, said Ellen Kodadek, the hall’s executive and artistic director.

Keeping with the monarch theme, artist Gregory VandeHey brought two large, foam-board butterflies for participants to adorn with beads, jewelry and other reused materials. He said the materials came from Materials for the Arts, a program through the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, which collects donations from businesses and makes them available to artists.

“It’s a lot more acceptable now to do creative work with reused materials. It’s become legitimate,” he said.

Angela Russo brought her three young children to teach them environmental values.

“I want them to learn about caring for the Earth and recycling,” she said. “It’s about being a part of keeping the Earth green and clean.”

Overhearing his mother, 8-year-old Emanuel turned to clarify her point.

“It’s blue and green,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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