From Trash to Treasure

An eco-friendly sculpture, created last year out of 1,500 water bottles by USM students and teachers,
has found a permanent home in Discovery World’s Freshwater Sustainability Lab.

When Lower School and Middle School students and visual arts teachers created their eco-friendly water bottle sculpture during the 2018–19 school year, they never imagined it would be permanently installed anywhere. In fact, after its tour of various Milwaukee locations in the summer of 2019, it was supposed to be dismantled and recycled. But that changed when John Emmerich, vice president of exhibits and audience engagement at Discovery World in Milwaukee, learned about the project.

Emmerich was contacted by Monique Charlier, executive director of Black Box, which supported the project. She told him about the sculpture and asked if Discovery World might be interested in displaying it temporarily. “When we were talking it through,” Emmerich said, “it became clear there wasn’t a long-term home for it.”

As luck would have it, Emmerich was looking for a student-created instillation to hang in Discovery World’s Freshwater Sustainability Lab, which features 15-foot windows overlooking Lake Michigan. “We always wanted to display something in that space, but we were waiting for the right opportunity,” he said. Created out of 1,500 plastic water bottles, the sculpture represents the number of bottles thrown away every second in the United States. Emmerich was excited to have a piece that aesthetically enhances the space while supporting the conservation, education, and freshwater sustainability work that is conducted in the lab.

After ironing out the details, the sculpture was installed in the lab on Oct. 8, 2019. Emmerich, and others at Discovery World, were thrilled with the results. “The spirit of the sculpture is to reduce our consumption of plastic, and it conveys a powerful message to anyone standing in that space,” he said. “To have it live on at Discovery World and continue to drive awareness is really exciting.”

Discovery World hosts upwards of 75,000 school group visitors every year, and the Freshwater Sustainability Lab hosts more than 10 camps every summer. USM students and teachers have been invited to see the lab and discuss their work with museum visitors.

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