A Diamond in the Rough At Old Town Scrapfest, artists turn garbage into art

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You may have heard that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but at Old Town Scrapfest one man’s trash is another man’s masterpiece. Brought together by metal scraps, artistic skill and sheer creative ingenuity, the Lansing community has been celebrating Scrapfest since 2009.

Here’s how it works: Teams are given an hour to search through and collect 500 pounds of scrap metal from Friedland Industries’ facility. Then, over the course of two weeks, teams bring their visions to life. Sculptures are crafted entirely from recycled metal, then displayed during a weekend-long festival. A committee of three judges deliberates on the best sculptures, awarding cash prizes to the first, second and third place winners. The public is also given the chance to vote in categories like Most Humorous and People’s Choice. Sculptures are later auctioned off, with 40 percent of proceeds going back to the artists. On top of the art featured at Scrapfest, attendees also enjoy great food, live music, artisan booths and more.

Although based in Lansing, Scrapfest’s eccentricity and unconventionality cultivates an audience from all over. Hannah Klug, a recent Central Michigan University graduate, travelled from Mt. Pleasant two years in a row to experience the festival and its atmosphere. “It’s just a really cool vibe,” said Klug. “It’s not just some place you go and drink beer and hang out; you really want to take everything in. These people are so dedicated to their craft and proud of their work, as they should be.”

Besides the construction and execution of the works themselves, Klug also noted the uniqueness of each piece. “It’s amazing how people come up with these things. I’ve seen everything from a map of Michigan, to a praying mantis, to a caterpillar playing the drums.” Klug is referring to several entries from Old Town Scrapfest 2015. Other entries that year included a lighthouse, a Skyrim dragon and the winning entry, a whale titled “Jonah.” Artists are free to create whatever they want and are encouraged to think outside the box. Some creators go for a comedic take, while others take a more emotional appeal.

2016’s first place winner was an emotionally charged piece titled “Bazelels Art,” depicting a man in chains. The chains, which are connected to a wall, are just short enough so that the man cannot cover his face. This was an intentional move from artist Kyle Orr, whose goal was to depict his internal struggle of feeling unable to express himself and wanting to shield himself from shame. Though a personal piece, Orr declined to give his sculpture a face so that anyone who feels they’ve been trapped can relate to it. Besides winning first place in the overall contest, “Bazelels Art” was also awarded People’s Choice.

It’s obvious that Scrapfest is one of the most interesting, visually stimulating events in Lansing, but it’s also one of the greenest. By repurposing scrap, less metal winds up in landfills. The sculptures are quite large and by reusing the metal, the equivalent space is available in landfills for other items such as non-recyclable plastics. This extra space helps keep landfills from overflowing. In addition to benefiting the environment, Scrapfest is also advantageous to Lansing’s economy. Each year, a portion of the proceeds is donated to the Old Town Commercial Association, whose mission is to further Lansing’s economic and community development.

Turning trash to art is no easy task, but Old Town Scrapfest will leave you feeling inspired, moved and fully entertained. Catch the event this year on July 14 and 15 at 1232 Turner St. in Lansing.