Santa Monica project invites crowds to pop-up art center

By Bridgette M. Redman

“Cardboard City” is an innovative pop-up community art center located on Third Street Promenade from July 8 through August 29.

Parents have long known that kids are often more fascinated by the cardboard box a gift comes in than the gift itself. So why not take the kids to a 10,000-square-foot city made entirely of cardboard?

Cardboard City is an innovative pop-up community art center that will be open on the Third Street Promenade in downtown Santa Monica through August 29. It will feature large-scale cardboard sculptures, architectural models and free family art activities using cardboard crafting techniques.

“I am excited by what we’ve created here — amazing exhibits of art,” said Johnathan Bijur, executive director of reDiscover Center, which has built Cardboard City in partnership with the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the

Environment and Starpoint Properties. “There is this huge zone of cardboard activities where families can make things.”
In addition to the free exhibits and art activities, visitors can sign up for fee-based classes or buy tools and materials for making cardboard art at home. There is even a camp that runs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The camp costs $200 for ages 7 to 12 with scholarships available.

“Cardboard City is a free community pop-up art center where everything is made out of cardboard,” Bijur said. “The art is made out of cardboard, the furniture is made out of cardboard, the projects your kids will make and take home are also made out of cardboard. Created in partnership with the L.A. arts community, there are amazing sculptures to inspire, as well as artists in residence each week giving prompts for projects kids can make to take home or contribute to one of our growing installations.”

The city had its grand opening on July 8 and will continue to be open Thursdays through Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. at 1231 Third Street Promenade.

reDiscover Center has a mission to develop children’s creativity through hands-on making with sustainable materials. The “reDiscover” refers to rediscovering waste materials for educational, artistic and creative projects. They offer community engagement events like Cardboard City as well as camps, classes and school services.

In the past seven years, reDiscover has been expanding its tinkering program, taking woodworking tools into elementary schools and teaching students how to safely use them. Throughout the history of the 19-year-old nonprofit, they’ve been creating engagement programs of which Cardboard City is the largest.

“As we started to come out of the depths of the pandemic in the spring with vaccination rates rising, we saw an opportunity for a large-scale crowd interaction and took a gamble that we’d be able to have crowds making art, seeing art, and thinking about art,” Bijur said. “We reached out to work with Downtown Santa Monica and they connected us with Starpoint.”

Downtown Santa Monica retail space has been hit hard — even before the pandemic — and Starpoint was eager to have this space reactivated. Dijur said all of them were eager to turn the Promenade space into something Santa Monica has never seen before.

“We’re trying to spark joy,” Dijur said. “When you see a kid putting cardboard together to make a hat, adding a few more pieces to make antlers and turn it into imaginary headgear, they see that they can make something. They are creative and capable. The parents are smiling, the facilitators are coming by. The artists in residence are seeing all this positive energy.”

Choosing cardboard as a medium

The event focuses on cardboard for many reasons, starting with its accessibility.
“Everyone has seen a cardboard box,” Dijur said. “Kids of all ages recognize it. They understand what it is. There is no learning curve for finding out what cardboard is.”

For many years, reDiscover has worked with recyclables and discarded materials from industry in all their programs. Cardboard has been one of them for many years. They have two suppliers in particular. One gives them truckloads of appliance boxes that people can crawl through, cut up and turn into epic pieces. Another supplier gives them micro-boxes for smaller projects.

Cardboard is structural and creates a bridge between paper and scissor crafts and major construction. With cardboard boxes, artists can build three-dimensional objects that are tall, inviting children to learn about key 21st-centurydesign concepts.

“We are helping kids to work with a material in creative ways that allow them to do not just art making, but engineering and engineering problem solving,” Dijur said.

He added that cardboard is just fun and that everyone has had a positive experience playing in a cardboard box or making something such as a playhouse, rocket ship or train out of it.

“We are trying to bring happiness, particularly this year after so many tragedies,” Dijur said.

Bringing in artists

The Cardboard City was built with several artists working together as a collective. A different artist is then in residence each week, creating work that will make the city more dense as the two months go on. Dijur encourages parents to make multiple trips to the city with their kids to learn new art and engineering skills and see the exhibits as they continue to grow and build.
The artists have created such things as 12-foot sculptures, cardboard dresses and costumes, cardboard sea creatures. Some artists include Ann Weber, Sherri Madison, Lynn Christopher, Aaron Kramer and Joshua Abarbanel.

While walking through the exhibit before opening day, Dijur described one of Weber’s works, pointing out that she is a well-recognized artist in the cardboard art world.

“She works primarily in large-scale biomorphic woven sculpture,” Dijur said. “They are huge and substantial, taller than I am. She does wonderful work of carving the space around the sculpture as well, often arranging multiple pieces in relation to each other. It’s just fantastic to see and it inspires a lot of thinking on my part.”

It’s that sort of inspiration that Dijur hopes visitors will find when they visit Cardboard City, inspiration that will make them want to turn their hands to cardboard art.

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