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Art Review: Trash To Treasure - The Art of Social Enterprise

16 February 16 words: Olivia Scott

Get down to Nottingham Central Library to check out just one part of the exhibition championing upcycling. There are exhibitions, workshops and fun times running all over the city

The Trash to Treasure exhibitions are located over five venues in Nottingham City Centre until the end of March. Focusing on the art of upcycling, they successfully expose the Western world to bold and innovative ideas that aid in creating sustainable livelihoods for disadvantaged communities in areas including India, Egypt and South Africa. Numerous social enterprises have come together to exhibit the creative transformations of everyday waste, such as old textiles and bottles, into useful and profitable products like bags, glasses and educational materials.

Not only do the exhibitions show the ingenious inventions of often marginalised and overlooked communities, but they also provide skills to improve their own livelihoods. The numerous enterprises involved with this project prioritise the sale of their products in order to generate a fair income for their workers and supply benefits for their families and communities. The fantastic thing about these exhibitions is that it’s not just about the art being created, it’s about what the art is creating for the communities, With the profit from the displayed work being able to fund schools, health clinics, clothing and fresh drinking water.

One of the main focuses in the exhibition is the enterprises' intentions to open up job opportunities for women where they can develop their confidence and self-respect, whilst still earning money to provide for their families. Many of the opportunities provided to women by the social enterprises are textile-based, where they learn artistic skills like sewing. However, the company Parampara, takes the improvement of disadvantaged people’s lives further by teaching them marketing skills, which will lead to their workers' eventually gaining their own independence.

The Carpenter’s Shop enterprise is another enticing feature of the exhibit, focusing on the progression of men’s lives. They train them to create stylish glasses from free bottles donated by local hotels and bars. These glasses can then be sold individually or as stylish gift sets, packaged in recycled cardboard boxes. Again, aiding people in developing their creative and commercial skills.

Mango Tree, the first enterprise displayed at the exhibit, provides low-cost educational wall charts, teaching literacy and numeracy skills but also highlighting health issues such as AIDs. Mango Tree then train teachers to make and use the products in class. Although this is a non-profitable approach, it reinforces the fact that education is as important as money-making in order to progress disadvantaged countries and communities.

This exhibition proves to be inspiring due to the imagination and perseverance of commonly disregarded communities who are finally being acknowledged with praise. However, the showcase causes a wave of underlying guilt to wash over you, as you begin to realise that the empty can of Diet Coke you just threw in the bin is in fact, a piece of treasure.

Trash to Treasure runs in various locations all over the city until the end of March.

The Art of Social Enterprise runs at Nottingham Central Library, Angel Row, until Saturday 26 March.

Trash to Treasure website 

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