In the world of themed entertainment, we at AOA often enjoy access to a broad community of trained and talented professionals who have a seemingly infinite number of contacts and resources to get the job done and make the impossible a reality. In our recent project with the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, we faced a question that surpassed our usual challenges in crafting themed entertainment experiences: how do you tell a story using only recycled materials and the generous time of community volunteers?
When working with recycled materials, we are reminded that sustainability is too often narrowly defined as an environmental cause; in reality true sustainability is an effort that holistically and systematically improves our communities spanning a range of issues. From environmental issues to social justice efforts, sustainability provides a new approach to solving the most challenging problems by putting people at the forefront of the solution. Through experiences that empower people and connect them to others, we are able to create resilient places that are more sustainable than ever before. We always put people at the center of our work by focusing on how our guests engage with the experience so that they are empowered to practice sustainability in their daily lives.
In celebration of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce’s centennial anniversary, FunHundred! presented by Full Sail University opened at Mead Botanical Garden as a free public art installation for the community’s enjoyment. The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce wanted to tell a story of economic prosperity through a lens of environmental sustainability and community partnership. In working with the Chamber, our Concept Design and Themed Finishes teams curated a series of interactive art pieces that represented the history, future, and mission of Winter Park’s commercial aptitude. The twist in this series of ideas would be that the project process itself would be emblematic of its core themes: all of the pieces would be created using repurposed materials, and community volunteerism would be crucial to its creation and execution.
Creating Holistically Sustainable Experiences
Both environmental and social justice issues alike require sustainable thinking in order to solve our most challenging problems. Our vision of a sustainable future takes a step back to gain a broader picture of our environment and looks to capture a holistic approach to sustainability. Simply put, the wo rld is looking for solutions that create more resilient communities. Resilience is an action and not a state of being, which requires people to participate in the process. Too rarely do we have the chance to make this kind of social engagement before a project opens, so when we realized we had an enormous opportunity to lead the community in an environmentally sustainable project, we seized the opportunity to give the public an opportunity to feel more connected to and more responsible for their community’s resilience.
As a result of this dual-headed mission, focused on both environmental sustainability and community input, we found ourselves asking a lot of surprising questions:
· Where do you find 1,500 recycled water bottles?
· How do you repurpose a microwave to hold library books?
· What should we paint on the side of this dumpster?
· How can you use old garden hoses to make an alligator sculpture?
We found the answers to these – and dozens more – questions in the homes, businesses, schools, and garbage cans of the Winter Park community. Our Themed Finishes team and the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce collected a range of materials – from tennis balls, bottle caps, and chain link fence to tires, mini-fridges, and demolished building materials – to be tinkered and toyed with at our production facility in Orlando. While our fabricators fenagled with appliances and our Construction Management Superintendents built dog houses out of scrap plywood, our Themed Finishes team searched through discount paint stores and stock collections from past projects for the vibrant greens, bold reds, and sunny yellows that would bring a Technicolor flash to the natural beauty of Mead Botanical Garden. Art teachers at local schools led their students in a wide range of paint and fabrication tasks: middle schoolers built oversized chessboards out of reused wooden pallets, kindergarteners painted and decorated river rocks, and high school students made a menagerie of Florida wildlife out of chicken wire, grocery store bags, soda cans, and much more.
While many of our pieces were being created throughout the Winter Park community, we meticulously prepared for Gather and Grow Day, a Saturday in January that welcomed more than 300 community volunteers to Mead Botanical Garden to paint, paint, and paint some more! Using creative organizational techniques, our volunteers mass-painted several thousand river rocks, more than 150 tree stump seats, and a variety of picnic tables, tin cans, and water bottles in just one day. We even drew intricate murals of iconic Winter Park landmarks on the side of six dumpsters and employed a handy paint-by-numbers system to get even the most timid volunteers engaged in the painting process.
Just a handful of days later, there we were. The FunHundred! celebration opened with great fanfare and turnout from Winter Park’s business, government, education, and community leaders. The most colorful and charming collection of checkerboards, newspaper racks, and chain link fence murals adorned the natural vistas of Mead Botanical Garden. Perhaps the most enrapturing moment was watching our hallway of brightly decorated mirrors reflect off of one another and catch the dazzling array of light from the Florida sunset. The exhibition was enthusiastically received by the community and its local leadership.
So, what did we manage to learn from all of this? We always knew we could make things out of recycled goods, and we knew that the principles of themed entertainment could make any story accessible, engaging, and emotionally-satisfying. What we did not know was how powerful the community would be in driving and realizing our mission of sustainability. Each and every material used in our exhibition came from the community in its many facets, and so to the community it was returned in this endearing, multichromatic exhibition. There is something to be said for the social and economic forces generated by art pieces that were otherwise headed to the landfill just a few short months a
go. It is the people who were involved – students, parents, residents, families, and people of all different demographic stripes – that turned this dream into a reality. Environmental sustainability, and the lack thereof, impacts us all, and so community engagement and active participation is crucial to its success. Each helping hand, whether they are painting river rocks, picking up trash on the street, or signaling their support of a new piece of green infrastructure, plays a role in ensuring that environmental sustainability works for and protects us all.
This project is a testament to the quiet potential energy in both people and materials that would otherwise lay dormant without creative imagination and technical talent. We are grateful for the opportunity to create a purpose-driven narrative that will ultimately inspire our fellow community members to take ownership of our planet and our environment. We are enormously proud to have worked on this project with the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce because it encapsulated the deep meaning that can be derived from uniting creativity, community, and sustainable thinking for the good of the public.
The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce’s FunHundred! Presented by Full Sail University is on exhibition at Mead Botanical Garden from February 4 through April 30, 2023. FunHundred! will be open each day from 8:00 a.m. to dusk. Mead Botanical Garden is located at 1300 S. Denning Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789. There is no admission charge to enjoy this experience. For more information and access to the exhibition’s School Curriculum Guide and Self-Guided Walking Tour content, please visit winterpark.org/funhundred.