Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Chef-d'oeuvres from the Rubbish Heap

City of Polani Museum, Murman region, northwest Russia, October 2001


One man's rubbish is another man's treasure, so the saying goes. And this was what the City of Polani Museum wanted to promote when it organised a competition for schoolchildren encouraging them to make things out of material other people had discarded. The children's ideas were then brought together to make up the exhibition, 'Chef-d'oeuvres from the Rubbish Heap', which was organized by the Museum in cooperation with the CSI platform. Polani is a 100-year-old town situated in the coastal zone of the Kola Peninsula, north of the Polar Circle.

At the opening of the exhibition local schoolgirls modelled bizarre outfits made of plastic shopping bags and used newspapers. The children had also cleverly constructed collages made of old plastic, coloured paper and torn stockings, and 'jewellery' made of sweet wrappers and other bits and pieces. Plastic bottles and empty coffee tins were painted or decorated and thus transformed into toys. A large tree came to life in the form of bottle-tops to represent leaves. 'Ikebana' made of metallic shavings, paper flowers and which 'grew' from a broken earthenware pot was also on show. All together, 70 different handicrafts were on display at the exhibition.

Recycled paper products from Indonesia were also on show for people to see. These displays were provided by the UNESCO office in Jakarta where important progress has been made in waste recycling in the framework of the CSI project on the 'Jakarta Bay'. The Jakarta experience with composting gave inspiration for similar activities in Polarni, and healthy flowers (a result of the newly learned composting techniques) were growing in the Museum on the eve of the Polar Night.

The local and regional press published several articles and photos on the 'rubbish heap' exhibition, including that of photos sent by the UNESCO Jakarta office on their exhibition (early 2001). The articles emphasised that the Polarni exhibition was important for highlighting that people must protect their town and environment from excessive waste. During the two weeks of the exhibition over 1000 people visited; an important figure for Polani with the population just over 20.000. The visitors included representatives of the town administration, various municipal services and communal economies, as well as schoolchildren, their parents and the general public. Forty-five authors (schoolchildren) of the best 'chef-d'oeuvres', as voted by visitors, were granted with gifts, which were made possible thanks to a small contract between the Museum and CSI. 'For Polarni, it was a great occasion - a real festivity - which became a reality thanks to UNESCO' Ms Galina Lagunova, the Museum Director, wrote in her letter to CSI.

In the year 2000, an earlier CSI exhibition was organized in the Museum, on 'sustainable living in the coastal region'. And there are future plans to nominate one secondary school in Polarni to be part of the UNESCO Associated Schools Project network (ASPnet), so that it can start working with the Museum under the UNESCO theme 'Seeking a Sustainable Balance'. For the environment this far north of the Polar Circle is particularly fragile and, once destroyed, is difficult to re-build.

Picture captions:
  • Artistic view on plastic shopping bags, coloured paper and torn stockings
  • Polarny folk of all ages are eager to learn more about reusing other people's rubbish: 'So, that's what they mean by recycling!'
  • Crumpled newspaper meets Polarny haute couture
  • Not so much the Tree of Life but the Tree of Bottle-top
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