Scottsdale Public Art Director Kim Curry-Evans was checking out at a local grocery store a few years ago when she felt her blood boil.
“I was frustrated … the grocers were using a gazillion plastic bags,” said Curry-Evans, who had just returned to Scottsdale to work at Scottsdale Arts after living in North Carolina for nearly seven years.
“Where I came from in North Carolina, we were very much about recycling, sustainability, the whole bit,” she added. “It just really made me mad.”
Curry-Evans took that personal frustration and pitched the idea to make Canal Convergence, which began in 2012, a more sustainable showcase versus solely an arts showcase, starting with its February 2018 event.
“One of my projects under my purview was Canal Convergence,” said Curry-Evans, who was hired on as Director of Public Art late 2017.
Since then, Scottsdale Public Art, in partnership with Scottsdale Solid Waste and local businesses, have made great strides in its sustainability efforts, diverting 88 percent of non-hazardous waste materials through recycling and composting efforts at its November 2018 event.
For this year’s Canal Convergence, which takes place Nov. 8 through 17, the goal is to get to 93 percent.
By 2020, SPA and Solid Waste hopes to reach 100 percent diversion, making Canal Convergence a zero-waste event.
“Working with the City of Scottsdale, they are totally on board with it, so they want to be able to help us however they can,” Curry-Evans said.
“It would be great if Canal Convergence becomes a model for other organizations, other festivals, other events and eventually the city itself, so the residents understand and know what they can do to help towards that,” she added.
To reach the 93 percent goal, SPA and Solid Waste will implement a few new changes.
To start, they will add a water refill station for the first time. “We’re working with [City of Scottsdale’s] water resources, and they’re going to come in with a water trailer,” said SPA Operations Manager Gina Azima.
Attendees will be encouraged to bring in a reusable, refillable water bottle.
By cutting back and potentially eliminating the use of plastic water bottles at the event, it will divert plastic bottles from the landfill.
Solid Waste also plans to do away with plastic trash bags and use compostable trash liners, instead.
Vendors are advised to create reusable, repurposed signage for the event, said Solid Waste Operations Manager Dave Bennett.
Food vendors are also instructed to use compostable and/or biodegradable items, including utensils, at Canal Convergence.
“We’re talking with the vendors: What do you think you’re going to bring? How do you think you’re packing it in?” Bennett said. “We’re tracking everything.”
So far, SPA and Solid Waste haven’t received much pushback from vendors.
“More often than not, they’re so receptive to us excited because we’re part of the community. We’re not just an event,” Azima said. “We’re here to say, ‘We’re all on the same page and we want you to be successful,’ and vice versa. So, a lot of the time they’ve just been so helpful.”
SPA and Solid Waste’s biggest challenge, however, is getting the vendors and surrounding businesses to cease using Styrofoam, including in the form of to-go containers.
“Styrofoam doesn’t weigh hardly anything,” Bennett said. “You can get 900 Styrofoam trays and that only equals one pound; But volume-wise, it fills up our containers rather quickly.”
Azima added: “The cost for compostable items is the same as plastic or Styrofoam, and it’s getting those food vendors, or even local businesses, to shift that construction of thought.”
Scottsdale Public Art’s goal is to partner with the local businesses that are also sustainability-minded.
“That would be like a huge goal down the road to make sure folks are signing on the dotted line in terms of how they want to be a partner with us, with what we’re doing, but also implement that themselves for their organization, for their company,” Curry-Evans said.
Canal Convergence’s focus on sustainability is a relatively new one.
Though the annual event started in 2012, its sustainability efforts began last February – thanks to Curry-Evans.
At the February event, SPA worked with Solid Waste to provide three-compartment bins with divisions for trash, recycling and composting.
Recyclable plastic cups and bicycle valets were featured at the event as well.
“We started with very basic steps with regards to just having Solid Waste take our trash, but, moreover, separate what folks were using as trash and to recycle, compost and landfill,” Curry-Evans said.
These small steps achieved a 55 percent diversion, but according to Bennett, they actually achieved 91 percent diversion.
“There was an overhanging art piece that went along the canal; It was basically thrown away. So we had to add that to our weight and that took us all the way down to 55 percent from 91 percent,” Bennett said.
But, overall, SPA and Solid Waste were happy with what they achieved in February, considering they had very little time to plan and implement its sustainability efforts.
“It gave us really high hopes for this last event that we just had,” Bennett said.
For Canal Convergence’s most recent event in November, the goal was to reach 90 percent, and they came close, achieving an 88 percent diversion.
For Solid Waste, the goal is to keep waste from the landfill.
“You want to try to reduce the need for it or repurpose it or recycle or compost it,” Bennett said.
The key to success is controlling the waste stream, which Solid Waste is able to do at Canal Convergence.
“That’s from the vendors and from the food vendors and the art vendors, and that’s 99 percent of our traffic coming in here,” he said. “This is stuff that’s brought in by the artists, their packing material and so forth. The signage, everything that you can think of that’s going to come there for that event, we measure that waste and its impact.”
When the event is all said and done, Solid Waste takes all waste to its transfer station and manually sorts through it over the course of one to two days.
“In order to do a zero-waste event, you first have to identify what’s going in that waste stream and correct it,” Bennett said, adding:
“If all else fails and you can’t remove that, you have to figure out an outlet, so it doesn’t go to landfill – figure out an alternative, internally or externally.”
New to the November event was SPA and Solid Waste’s educational outreach.
For example, Solid Waste members were on-site providing tips for increasing one’s sustainability efforts at home.
“You’re reaching out to people not only here in Scottsdale, [but also people] from across the state to basically across the world,” Bennett said. “Everybody is very, very responsive of what we’re doing out there and what our goals are.”
In an effort to merge the arts and sustainability, SPA asked Scottsdale Unified School District students to transform recycling bins into engaging works of art.
Canal Convergence also displayed public art installations and curated artist-led workshops to show attendees how they, too, can create art out of upcycled and recycled materials.
For example, the artist behind Re-Cyclone, Martin Taylor, led a workshop where participants contributed to a communal mosaic made entirely out of recycled bottle caps.
“For us, it’s very much about how we can educate not just a certain general population, but we’re starting young and making sure they know. That’s a personal goal for me,” Curry-Evans said.
For this year’s Canal Convergence, SPA and Solid Waste commissioned an artist, Mary Bates Neubauer, to create six to eight permanent recycling bins from recycled metal of decommissioned Dumpsters for the Scottsdale Waterfront.
“We want the artist to think outside of the box,” Bennett said. “The city’s allowing those local artists to use bins that are going to go out of service. They can use that metal to create their trash containers that will be out there in the future.”
SPA also hopes to transform more Dumpsters in Old Town into “functioning, beautifully designed trash receptacles,” as Curry-Evans puts it.
For Curry-Evans, she’s excited to see her frustration turn into such a success.
“What started as frustration that I had elsewhere, personally, became something where we could implement it here as a part of Canal Convergence and see how it is growing and how this message about water and how important it is to us in terms of conservation, what it means to our livelihood and then translating that into bigger questions, bigger issues, bigger topics about recycling and sustainability.”