Elena Ahwee–Marrah believes that one person’s trash is another person’s art.

The Colonial Forge High School senior came up with an idea to challenge Stafford County art students to do just that—mold three-dimensional sculptures out of trash or recyclables and exhibit them at this weekend’s 43rd Annual Stafford County Schools Fine Arts Festival at Brooke Point High School.

The daughter of Richard and Christine Ahwee–Marrah introduced her earth-friendly idea while serving as a volunteer on the Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Board (R-Board).

“Elena wanted to make an impact on the community to better understand how we can use recycled materials by turning them into art,” said M.C. Morris, R-Board community outreach supervisor. “To have those recycled sculptures displayed at the art show is just fantastic.”

The 17-year old’s interest in the R-Board came through her participation in the county’s Youth Engaged in Stafford program, which offers area high school students hands-on opportunities to serve as volunteers on a county board, authority, committee or commission. Through the program, Elena Ahwee–Marrah chose the R-Board as the organization that best suited her interests in the environment.

As to why Ahwee–Marrah took to turning litter into art, the answer is simple.

“It looks cool,” she said. “But the real reason is, our landfill is running out of space, and I figured an art contest would be a cool way to get people to reuse recyclables in a different way while saving space in our landfill. So I connected art and recycling to the arts festival. I figured it would be a good idea to mix the two, because there’s a lot of green arts projects going around.”

Ahwee–Marrah has been an art student in Jan Harris’ class for the last two years.

“She’s an amazing young woman,” Harris said. “I fully expect to see Elena in a leadership position someday, involved with something innovative and creative—something that hasn’t even happened yet—she’ll be involved in it. I have so many wonderful students, but Elena truly stands out.”

Although Ahwee–Marrah will not be exhibiting her own sculpture at the arts festival, she will be helping out at five stations at the event so visitors have an opportunity to create art from everyday recycled materials. To prepare, she spent Wednesday afternoon with classmates from Colonial Forge’s National Art Honor Society, cutting up plastic bottles and other recyclables.

“We came up with different ways so the little kids can make crafts out of plastic bottles,” Ahwee–Marrah said. “Each piece of these bottles will be used for a different craft. Today, we’re making samples of those crafts for the display tables, and this weekend, we’ll teach the kids how to make them.”

Some of those crafts include lightning bugs, sharks, pencil holders and planters.

A huge fan of both art and science, Ahwee–Marrah discussed her post-high school options earlier this year with Deanna Thompson, her advanced placement biology teacher.

“We talked about ways she could incorporate science with art, architecture and the environment,” Thompson said. “Ways to take all those skills and think outside the box. I had no idea she was involved in this contest, but I’m not surprised.”

This weekend’s festival runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The event is free and open to the public, and will feature approximately 5,000 pieces of student artwork.

“In addition to the art, there will also be special interactive exhibits, areas to create art and ways people can reflect on art. We’re trying to make it real interactive for the families, not only to see the art, but to be part it as well,” said Annamarie Bollino, the fine and performing arts facilitator for Stafford schools.

Musical and performing arts segments will also be featured, including a third-grade musical and an all-county guitar ensemble—both on Saturday—and a “Small World” ride guided by students from Falmouth Elementary School.

There will also be about 135 sculptures made from recycled items, thanks to the popularity of Ahwee–Marrah’s contest among Stafford County art students.

Vehicles from the R-Board visited county schools to collect the exhibits for delivery to Brooke Point.

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James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438