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In honor of Earth Day 2021 and our ongoing mission to provide cleaner energy for future generations, Unbound Solar is proud to announce our latest initiative with The Atrium, a creative innovation center for sustainability based in Sacramento, CA.

We believe in empowering people through education, which is why when a group of artists from SS Studios contacted us to sponsor their eco-friendly art installation, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  

Atrium founder Shira Lane developed The Recycle Challenge installation a few years ago and with the support of Sacramento County, she was able to hire and collaborate with artists Sean Stillwell, Alexa Jesse, and Jaymie Braun to give the exhibit an upgrade. 

Photo by Maximo Barrett (@photomaximo)

The frame of the satellite looking structure, named The Beacon, is composed of aluminum, an infinitely recyclable material, with LED lights that are powered by the sun thanks to us! The project was clearly aligned as we share the Atrium’s passion for the environment, renewable energy, and for informing the public about waste management and sustainable living as a whole.

We chatted with Recycle Challenge Producer Shira Lane and Lead Artist / Fabricator Sean Stillwell to learn more about this 3rd iteration of The Recycle Challenge, The Beacon, and what the project hopes to achieve. 

Tell us about The Atrium, what do you do and why?

Shira Lane: The Atrium is a creative innovation center for sustainability. We come up with creative solutions for a sustainable world, utilizing the local creative community because creatives are the innovators this earth needs. More companies should harness creatives for their artistic superpowers, as they are currently an underutilized and under appreciated workforce.

The Atrium connects government entities with the creative workforce to build sustainable solutions that serve the local community.  We are both an arts organization and an environmental solutions organization. We are the intersection of the two, bringing together the many creatives that really care and want to do good for the planet. We create paid opportunities for creative artists and foster the community for collaboration,  whether it be filmmakers and fashion designers, builders, dancers, etc. We work in collaboration, not competition, and that is when magic happens. 

What are the main focus areas of The Recycle Challenge?

Shira Lane: The main purpose of the exhibit is consumer education. If we’re not educating consumers correctly, there is no way we can fix our waste stream. Education is the most important step. Renewable energy is important and is a hot topic when it comes to sustainability, but unfortunately, our waste stream is not as sexy to talk about, so we made it sexy and fun. Not many people really consider where our waste is going because we don’t see it when it is taken away.  The Recycle Challenge art installation aims to change misconceptions.

How did the unique design of The Beacon come about? 

Sean Stillwell: I was designing The Beacon as a freestanding exhibit that someone could approach from all sides. Since the installation was required to be mobile, I wanted to find a shape that could stack when broken down into its core components so that it could be transported easily, both from the site location to a car, and then seamlessly taken to wherever it needs to go. The design came first and the name followed and felt very appropriate, as the goal of the project is to raise awareness about waste, to create a “beacon” of hope. I needed a versatile base for the unit that could house all the infrastructural components, and it worked well with the hexagonal pods as they invite and immerse participants inside of this three dimensional space. 

Photo by Maximo Barrett (@photomaximo)

What do you want people to take away from The Recycle Challenge installation?

Shira Lane: We want people to leave with new insights, a new understanding of what really happens within the recycling waste stream. There are many misconceptions and I’d love to help people truly understand what is going on.  Once they learn the truth then they can make, and will want to make, better decisions. People tend not to make the right decisions because of lack of knowledge, or because they are being educated on old information. 

Information about recycling has not been updated since 2018 when China decided to no longer accept our recyclables. We are currently throwing most of it to landfill or it is being  exported to third world Countries that don’t have the capacity to manage the large amount of plastic; this has detrimental effects on the locals in those communities, damaging their drinking water and living conditions. I hope soon California will make it illegal to export plastics to countries that don’t have the capacity to handle it. In the meantime – we need to educate.

The mission of The Recycle Challenge is to educate the public about recycling correctly and how to live a more sustainable life. How do you see public facing art installations dealing with these issues on a conceptual and pragmatic basis?

Sean Stillwell: Interactive and immersive art is hitting stride these days. Look at artists and art groups like Hybycozo, Foldhaus, Future Forms Lab, Meow Wolf and attractions like Entwined by Charles Gadeken at Golden Gate Park, and the immersive Van Gogh show; not to mention Burning Man and other mainstream festivals. 

A bronze sculpture of a dead white guy will no longer cut it as public art, for many reasons. Beyond social equality issues, which are first and foremost, there is an entertainment component that people seem to be craving. If the artist is doing it right, in my humble opinion, there is an opportunity for a potentially subversive, albeit integral empowerment through education component as well. Draw people in with bright shiny lights and teach them something of value, shift their perspective, and help them grow.

Photo by Maximo Barrett (@photomaximo)

As these elaborate, interactive sculptures and environments have evolved over the last decade they have become packed with tech; sensors, lights, servos, micro processors, screens. With a parallel growing awareness of environmental issues, these public installations have an opportunity to address these infrastructural requirements responsibly.

Imagine if instead of a solar panel plopped on top of an artwork, the angle of the sun was a design driver for the work, or if wind turbines or dynamos were integrated into a public space so that the wind or public participation could actually power all of the lights, perhaps even send the surplus back to the grid. Art used to be a kind of cultural moral compass, and I hope that it will take up those reins again.

How did Unbound Solar support the creation of these installations?

Sean Stillwell: Unbound Solar undoubtedly took our installations to the next level, and we learned so much by working with them. This project consisted of a number of firsts for our team. Powering this many lights without needing to plug them into a wall was definitely the biggest unknown.

We originally were going to use an out of the box power station but quickly realized that either battery life or the budget was going to have to suffer. Luckily we reached out to Unbound Solar to see if they would be interested in collaborating, and were pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm to contribute!

The design of The Beacon was unique and one of its kind, and the Unbound Solar team helped design a custom solar system to fit our needs. Both the sales and technical support staff were enthusiastic about the project and willing to take their time to walk us step by step through both design and setup. It works beautifully!

Live Sustainably with the Power of Solar

For nearly 30 years, Unbound Solar has been helping people live sustainably and independently with renewable energy solutions.

We’ve designed more than 100 megawatts worth of solar power solutions installed cross the country — and we’re committed to freely sharing all the knowledge we’ve gained along the way.

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of solar power, check out our breakdown of the pros & cons of solar energy.

And if you’re already thinking about making the switch to solar — we can help with that, too! Our Getting Started with Solar Guide outlines everything you need to embark on your solar journey and live more sustainably. Click here to download if for free.

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