Fort Worth students prepare bottles for an art project with a world-renowned artist

Students at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy worked hard and long to prepare 24,000 donated bottles of water for a giant sculpture assembled in the basement of the Fort Worth Center for the Arts.

Together with New Jersey artist Willie Cole, the students made the pile of bottles that had to be prepared smaller and smaller. Using heat guns, students punched holes in the bottoms of the bottles, preparing them to be strung together with wire in the next phase of the Tarrant County Education Foundation’s art project.

Cole, who arrived in Fort Worth on Oct. 23, taught the students how to prepare the bottles. The project is expected to be completed by March 2024 and be on display at the Community Center for the Arts by the end of that month.

Dr. Arlene Barnett, the co-founder of the Tarrant County Education Foundation, had one goal: introduce students to alternative career paths.

Willie Cole, an artist from New Jersey, grabs a bag of recycled water bottles on October 26. Cole and Fort Worth students will build a giant sculpture from the bottles as part of the Tarrant County Education Foundation’s ArtCycling project. TCEF co-founder Dr. Arlene Barnett said the project aims to help Fort Worth students see that there are career opportunities in the arts. “When will these students ever get the chance to work with an artist outside of Texas?” she said. “We’d like to make an impact by making sure we expose a large number of kids to creativity and thinking outside the box.” (Cristian Argueta Soto | Fort Worth Report)
Artist Willie Cole works with recycled water bottle bags. Cole, who is visiting Fort Worth from New Jersey, said kids and artists need to know that real money and opportunities can be outside your city and state. “I wouldn’t be able to make a living with my art if I just stayed in New Jersey,” he said. For the giant water bottle sculpture project, the Fort Worth community donated about 24,000 empty bottles, said Tarrant County Education Foundation co-founder Dr. Arlene Barnett. By Oct. 28, the students and Cole worked on preparing the bottles for the next phase of the art project. The students will continue to work on the bottles after Cole leaves for New Jersey, he said. (Cristian Argueta Soto | Reporting from Fort Worth)
Willie Cole, an artist from New Jersey, places bottles on a table to be prepared for an art project on October 26. Cole specializes in recycled art. He started working with water bottles when he was commissioned for an art project but with no budget. “Water bottles were readily available and cheap,” he said. Cole has now created numerous water bottle sculptures, including chandeliers and a giant water bottle man in New Jersey. (Cristian Argueta Soto | Reporting from Fort Worth)
Stacks of bags filled with donated water bottles sit in the basement of the Fort Worth Arts Center, where Fort Worth students have prepared them for the next phase of an art project. Students from the Fort Worth Young Women’s Leadership Academy helped artist Willie Cole prepare bottles. Approximately 24,000 bottles were collected, Tarrant County Education Foundation Co-Founder Dr. Arlene Barnett said. “This is an entire community that has joined us in this effort. I am so grateful. Everything is wonderful. Everything is great. What I learned is that these artists are extremely important. (Cristian Argueta Soto | Reporting from Fort Worth)
Young Women’s Leadership Academy students Juliet Salgado, left, and Itzayana Santos, right, remove labels from donated water bottles on Oct. 26. Students formed an assembly line to prepare bottles for a giant water bottle sculpture project. Dr. Arlene Barnett, the co-founder of the Tarrant County Education Foundation, said the students are the most integral part of the water bottle sculpture project. “We cannot leave art out of schools. We want to reach kids in a unique way.” (Cristian Argueta Soto | Report from Fort Worth)

Cole’s next visit to Fort Worth will be in March 2024, Barnett said. By then, the students will have prepared the water bottles, strung them together with wire into sheets, and will be ready to finally construct the sculpture.

Cole has made water bottle sculptures in the past, both on his own and with local students in New Jersey.

“It’s monotonous work. I can see how it could be boring. I’m usually in front of the TV when I’m making bottles,” Cole said. “We need (students) to be stable to make this project happen.”

Christian Argueta Soto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him via Email or through Twitter. At Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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