By Rose DeRatto
Imagine sitting back and listening to the sound of rushing water, and being surrounded by countless trees. That sounds relaxing, right? It becomes a lot less relaxing when you realize the rushing water is actually a faucet someone forgot to turn off, and the trees are really just trashcans full of barely used paper towels. This was the scene that appeared too often in Virginia Commonweath University’s metal studio. The studio can be a messy place on its own. When you throw 60+ students in a studio together, mess and waste are unavoidable.
As a student it’s easy to ignore the consequences of my actions. I don’t have to think about how many paper towels I’m using—they just get replaced the next day. There’s no water bill at the end of the month to show me how much I’ve been running the tap. I never have to worry about how to dispose of used chemicals. It’s easy to ignore the waste I’m accumulating when I don’t consider it a problem, or at the very least I don’t consider it my problem.
Last semester my classmates–Liz Brosetti, Colleen Freeman, Shira Brooks and Katie Fox–and I were asked by our professor, Susie Ganch to challenge this point of view. We were asked to take a close look at the studio, generate a list of what we considered problems, find solutions and put these solutions into action. With only a handful of us on the job, it certainly seemed like a daunting task, but after a semester of work, we did make a change in the studio that is still growing.
When the class sat down to think about what we wanted to change in the studio, a few things jumped immediately to the top of the list. Paper towels were constantly being over-used, and we all agreed that the studio was wasting a lot of water. The issue of recycling was also brought up, as well as a potential switch to more efficient light-bulbs.
Some of the problems on the list were easier to solve than others. It was early in the semester when we made a switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, and not long after we created a rinsing/neutralizing station to minimize how much we needed to use running water.
After these easy solutions we jumped into our biggest project—catch-trays for all of the studio’s benches. This meant designing and constructing catch-trays for at least 18 benches. At times it was a struggle, but we succeeded, and I’m happy to say that each bench pin in the studio is accompanied by a catch-tray.
Going into this class, my aim was to spark a change—something that would become a catalyst to propel the studio into becoming a more responsible community. While I was busy thinking about how the class would change the studio, I didn’t realize that the class would also become a catalyst within myself. It is nearly a year later, and I’m still continuing to build upon the momentum from last semester and tracking my progress on a blog—theresponsiblestudio.tumblr.com. I’ve also joined a group within Ethical Metalsmiths that is focused on researching responsible studio practices.
The class was only the beginning of the journey to transform my own studio practices, just as I hope that sites like this could be the beginning of your own transformation. If you want to know more about how I helped to make our studio a little more responsible or have any suggestions, I would love to hear from you at my blog (theresponsiblestudio.tumblr.com) or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rose DeRatto currently lives in Richmond, VA. In May she is receiving a BFA in crafts/material studies from Virginia Commonwealth. It was at VCU that she was a part of Susie Ganch’s “Responsible Studio Practices” class and has been interested in finding ways to make jewelry more environmentally friendly ever since.
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