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Artists At WACky Family Day Use Nature's Bounty to Create

Like Christo, whose work is currently on display at Westport Arts Center, local children produce artwork from natural elements found in the landscape.

Intermingling nature and art, more than 100 local youth created eclectic planters for sunflower seeds, self portraits made with natural elements, and flags decorated with beads, fabric and ribbons at the on Sunday afternoon.

In collaboration with its visual arts exhibit “,” including the new works, “Project for the Arkansas River, State of Colorado” and “Mastaba, Project for the United Arab Emirates,” gave children the opportunity to experience what it's like to produce artwork by working with their natural surroundings.

As facilitator of the flag project, Westport Arts Center's artist-in-residence Martha Bloom explained that the finished flags would be laminated and then strung across the building's exterior.

"Corresponding to Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work, we wanted to have our own little community installation here in Westport,” Bloom said.

She told the young artists seated at the tables filled with colorful materials that, “You are the artist. Anything goes.”

Rose Cairo, 4, of Fairfield, chose to paste photos of fish alongside blue beading on the triangular shape in front of her. Rose was accompanied by her grandmother, Vicki Boccuzzi, of Newtown. Boccuzzi, who said she learned about WACky Family Day Goes Green from the local media, said that this was their first time at the children's program. “This is very nice,” Boccuzzi said. She thought her granddaughter would enjoy the Arts Center's activities because Rose has attended a nature camp in Stamford.

Alex Weinberg, 5, of Purchase, NY, was also brought to WACky Family Day by his grandmother, Lynn Weinberg of Stamford. A third-grade teacher, Weinberg said that she enjoys offering creative, educational activities to her students during the school year. “I love watching my kids use their imaginations,” Weinberg said. “It's especially nice to watch your own grandson enjoy making all of these projects. This is a great program.”

The Chapel family are not newcomers to the Westport Arts Center. “We enjoy doing everything that they offer here,” said Amy Chapel, as her two children Chloe, 7, and Collin, 6, intently worked on their flags. “We've come to many WACky Family Days and Chloe has taken classes here. My older daughter was in the photography exhibit last year.”

The Chapel family also participated in the recent event. After reading clues online, they traveled to the Westport Arts Center, the and the to correctly answer the website's puzzles.

In keeping with Christo's commitment to working with local communities and government officials in preparing for his installations, this summer the Westport Arts Center emphasized its goal of partnering with other cultural venues in town. Sunday's WACky Family Goes Green was co-sponsored by Green Village Initiative and .

Deirdre Price, a GVI and Westport Arts Center board member, said she had a great time watching the children re-use materials, such as magazines, that are frequently thrown away. Along with raising awareness about environmental issues, Price said that one of GVI's missions is to promote “everything local.”

This was demonstrated by the presence of two local retailers — Sweet & Simple and Planet Fuel — which provided free samples of homemade chocolate chip cookies and organic beverages. Another local business, Melissa & Doug, owned by Westport residents, and Staples High School alumni, are always one of the sponsors of WACky Family Day. For this program, the children's products' company donated complimentary Go-Green gardening gloves to every child. Melissa and Doug also hosted the Children's Zone, a play area where children could dress up in costumes, compose a puppet show and do floor-size puzzles.

“One of the things that I'm particularly happy about, and that has contributed to the success of this WACky Family Day, is that all of the artists acting as facilitators today are local, too,” said Danielle Ogden, director of education at the Westport Arts Center.

Westport Arts Center's intern Andie Levinson, a sophomore at New York University, came up with the idea for making portraits out of natural materials. Since the other projects offered were three-dimensional, Levinson thought that kids would also enjoy creating a two dimensional project. Using dirt, sand, pebbles, seashells, moss and grass, Levinson encouraged the kids to make the color brown by rubbing dirt onto the paper. She also demonstrated how 'green' could be made by using grass and moss.

“This is so much fun,” she said. “I was in my backyard cutting leaves for this project.”

Ogden said the Westport Arts Center emphasizes that art can be produced by using natural and recycled materials. “In addition to the partnership with Green Village Initiative, and supporting their important message about taking care of the environment, it's also critical for us to raise awareness to kids about how they use materials for their artwork,” Ogden said. “We believe that everyday materials can be used as a resource to create.”

Westport Arts Center's newly hired executive director Peter Van Heerden was experiencing his first WACky Family Day this weekend.

“Every time I come to another event at the Westport Arts Center, I'm amazed at how its gallery space is transformed,” said Van Heerden.

The next WACky Family Day is Sunday, October 23 in celebration of Halloween. The Westport Arts Center is located at 51 Riverside Avenue. To register for WACky Family Day Goes Green, call 203-222-7070 or go to www.westportartscenter.org.

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