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Mountain Home Magazine

The Magic of a Second Life

MARIA STRINNI/Strinni Studio

Are you craving something out of the ordinary? An experience that will leave you spellbound? Mark your calendars for June 3, then, and prepare for an evening full of gasps and applause and outright wonder, when something magical happens as the auditorium at the Corning Museum of Glass is transformed into a world of the unexpected. That’s what Recycled Runway has become. What began as an attempt to add something unique to the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes’ annual meeting has grown into the organization’s signature fundraising event, and with good reason. It is spectacular.

Imagine an outfit made with barbed wire. Or log shoes. Or a fruit vest. That’s right, real fruit.

“Last year,” says Amelia Harnas, who helped found the first Recycled Runway event in Corning six years ago, “one artist saved rinds of fruit and avocados. She froze them, then meticulously cut them into shapes and patterns. Being such a perishable fashion, it became very precarious.”

According to Amelia, who has designed a piece for this year’s event, that sense of risk and danger and unpredictability adds to the excitement of this unusual fashion show featuring one-of-a-kind creations made from recycled or repurposed materials. You watch and wonder if they’ll even make it up and down the runaway. But they do.

“Some of the fashion is elegant,” says Connie Sullivan-Bloom, executive director for the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes. “We also often get big theatrical pieces. Dramatic pieces. One year there was a dragon with wings made out of milk jugs that were cut down into dragon scales and spray-painted. The wingspan was, maybe, four-and-a-half feet. It was huge.”

Other pieces could be worn for a night out. One artist collected handkerchiefs and other items that had belonged to or had been made by her family and friends. From these she made her actual wedding dress—a beautiful gown created out of the memories of family and friends.

“What I like most,” says Connie, “is the surprise.” There is, indeed, an inherent reward in being surprised in such a way, in being caught off guard by something that is at once beautiful and unexpected. It’s the state of disbelief and astonishment one feels when seeing a creation most people wouldn’t begin to imagine and saying, “I can’t believe you made that out of that. How did you do that?”

Coming up with ideas that rely on unusual materials to create that outcome is certainly appealing to designers. There’s an art to seeing the potential in a material that has been discarded, in noticing the beauty in a thing most might deem worthless. Yet, Connie says, probably one-third of the designers are people who wouldn’t call themselves artists. But they love the notion of creating something beautiful out of something that seems to have run the course of its life.

What makes Recycled Runway such a great fit for Corning, says Connie, is that “artists in our area will make art out of whatever they can get their hands on.” Anyone can apply to participate, but this is a juried show, and the selection process is quite thorough, with special attention given to the materials. “I think people might not realize how serious we are that the materials are recycled and repurposed,” she adds. “We’re purists about that. All materials—aside from glue, thread, tape—must be recycled and repurposed. You can’t just buy a suit coat at the thrift shop and call it recycled.”

Amelia echoes the importance of that focus. “Over the years,” she says, “the push has been to ensure that the fashion honestly includes recycled materials, giving it a new life and a new purpose instead of just adding more stuff in the world. That requires a certain resourcefulness from the designers that’s a key component.”

This year, for instance, one designer is using the plastic rings from water bottle caps, the part everyone discards without thinking about it.

“That is, to me, the most exciting part,” says Amelia. “There’s a lot of ugliness out in the world and any time you can do something that is magical or transform something to make it extraordinary, something that gives people pause, to have a moment in your day where you’re not just going through the motions, but you’re actually seeing something a new way...that’s exciting.”

And, the fundraiser aligns perfectly with the ARTS Council’s mission to support arts and artists directly and indirectly. “There’s a youth group from the Southeast Steuben County Library,” says Connie, “who submit something each year. ere are two adults, one who was a professional designer, who act as advisors and teach the kids fundamentals of design. But the kids come up with the idea. They source the materials, and they create the fashion under the guidance of those experienced advisors.” The ARTS Council also assigns mentor designers to novices to help ensure their success.

That first year, Recycled Runway was at 171 Cedar Arts, an ideal venue, really, because it is an intimate space. “People were sitting on stage with us,” says Amelia, “which was fun and it was a unique way of doing it.”

But the event has gotten bigger and wilder each year, so much so that it needed a larger setting. The world’s largest museum devoted to glass art and artifacts adds a level of prestige, an element of pomp and circumstance. Of course, the event, with cocktails, a silent auction at 7 p.m., and the fashion show following at 8:30, wouldn’t have grown to the level it has without the support of the local community, from artists to shop owners, restaurants, and a variety of businesses.

Get your tickets for the 2017 Recycled Runway at More than just a creative fundraiser for the arts, the event has evolved into an evening of uninhibited creativity. 

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