Sally Fisher was instrumental in starting the Recycled Arts Festival in Clark County and has been coordinating the event for the past twelve years. We sat down to reminisce with her about the first Recycled Arts Festival and how far it has come.
What inspired the first Recycled Arts Festival (RAF)?
There was a group of people; we worked together as the Environmental Information Cooperative. In a brainstorming session, we all thought it would be fun to do an art show at the park. We talked about it for years before we actually did one. It was a meeting of the minds.
What was the first RAF like?
A lot smaller than the current Recycled Arts Festivals. We had about 30 artists, and I think about three thousand people came. People didn't really buy anything, they didn't realize it was a sale, and the artists were frustrated. Many of the artists didn't show up on Sunday, so then we had to start charging a deposit on those spots if they didn't come back.
Why do you think RAF has become so popular?
I think the main thing people like is just the creativity. It's got a lot of WOW factor because you walk up to an artist's booth and they've made something out of something recognizable that you wouldn't have thought could have been art or something functional. Most of us recycle or throw it away. So people like looking at every little part and trying to figure out what it is. And the event is family-friendly. It's a place where people can come, spend the day for free. It's the beginning of summer—everyone wants to be outside.
What is your funniest story of something that happened at a RAF?
When we did our Toss and Found—which saves things that get taken to the transfer station but could have been taken to a thrift store or given to a neighbor—one year, we found a taxidermy raccoon. We kind of adopted it as our mascot, even though mice had eaten off its little feet and it was pretty gross. A photographer of The Columbian came by and he took pictures of it and put it in the paper. My phone rang first thing the next morning, and it was the wife of the man who had stuffed that raccoon. He didn't know she had gotten rid of it, so when he opened the paper that day, here was that raccoon, and she was in a lot of trouble. So we convinced them to let us keep the raccoon for the festival since it had been in the paper and we had been advertising with it. Then, I personally delivered the raccoon back to them after the festival.
What has been your favorite part of RAF?
All the wonderful people I've met and the creative people. It's become a little family of the people who come year after year. It is something that brings the community together where everyone can enjoy it.
Sally recently stepped up to the position of Program Coordinator II of the Solid Waste and Environmental Outreach team at Clark County Public Health and is passing the 13th annual RAF to Jill Krumlauf, Clark County Green Neighbors Environmental Coordinator. How does it feel to be passing RAF into someone else's hands?
It feels bitter-sweet. It's nice to know that it's going to a good place and can continue. And I know Jill cares a lot about the Festival. But, it's hard to let it go, too. It's kind of been my baby from the beginning. But it's good; it's time. It's always good to have new energy and ideas, and that's what we'll have this year.
Some Q&A with Jill K:
You assisted Sally with RAF last year, how does it feel to be taking the lead this year?
It's very exciting! The festival was one of the reasons I was interested in this position with the county. I first visited RAF in 2014, shortly after moving to Vancouver. I never thought I would one day be organizing it! I was lucky to have the opportunity to "shadow" Sally last year. She made sure to keep me in the loop and involved in all of the logistical aspects, which helped for a smooth the transition this year. I'm lucky Sally continually organized the event so well, that it's a well-oiled machine and a respected legacy.
What do you like about RAF?
I love that people are so surprised to see what is actually possible from something that they would normally toss. Who knew you could create beautiful jewelry from disposable plastic gift cards? Well, you can! And that's the type of art we showcase at the festival. Art that inspires, art that is useful, and especially, art that does not waste. Showing real people tangible ways they can reduce and reuse is always better than just tossing something away, whether in the recycle bin or garbage. The festival focuses on this side of waste reduction education: rather than just telling someone to recycle a plastic bottle, here's what you can do instead to continue the lifecycle of this item and prevent the creation of new waste. In addition to our message, the community support and volunteers are wonderful, and the festival is just plain fun. I mean, who doesn't like outdoor celebrations with live music, roaming entertainers, and food…
Are you working on anything new for the Festival this year?
Yes! We are very excited to have The Falconer, a wildlife conservation organization, who educates about how our wasteful and toxic habits are affecting our birds and their habitat. Live birds of prey will be on display both Saturday and Sunday – you might get to see an owl and vulture up close! Portland Taiko and Recycle Man will also be performing Sunday morning leading up to the Procession of the Species, which begins at 11am.
This year we have over 130 art vendors and have become one of the most popular events in the area with thousands of visitors every year. Our artists have a variety of items from home décor and garden art to jewelry and clothing with everything made with at least 75% recycled materials. Don't miss out!