RYLEIGH NORGROVE / THE CHRONICLE - Jayda Campbell, left, and Morgan Yellowtail help promote the message.

SPRINGFIELD – A drive-in movie is quintessentially old-school. It’s classic and sleek. It smells like cherry Coke, buttered popcorn and backseat laughs.

The drive-through, too, strikes the same chord. It’s quick and easy, on-the-go fuel for a busy morning. It’s just around the corner. Always within reach. Reliable and consistent. A perfect blend of nostalgia and the current moment – all tossed together in the same greasy paper bag. 

Today, the lingering pandemic has brought that concept to the art scene. Drive-through exhibits and galleries are popping up all over the world. And last week, there was one in Springfield. 

On Tuesday, May 17, the students of Springfield’s Academy of Arts and Academics (A3) presented “It’s a Plastic World,” a drive-through art installation with an environmentally conscious edge. Students used plastic waste and chicken wire to create life-sized sculptures of pelicans, weightlifters, oil spills, hourglasses and much more. 

In a typical year, A3 would host a variety of indoor, close-contact art exhibits, showcases and performances. The drive-through workaround was a way to adhere to local Covid restrictions while presenting student artwork. And though the A3 students’ artwork wasn’t ‘made to order’ – it certainly made a lasting impression. 

“I mean, we’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to the pandemic,” freshman Morgan Yellowtail said. “The drive-through is awesome; people can come see our work while not being in close-contact with each other.” 

Each group of students began with an “anchor fact” about plastic waste to inspire their art-projects. Yellowtail, an aspiring cartoonist and character artist, worked on a series of life-sized plastic water bottles filled with candy wrappers, empty doritos bags, straws and bottle caps. 

PHOTO PROVIDED - Students at the Academy of Arts & Academics displayed art with an environmental message in the past week.

“One-fifth of all plastic is recycled,” Yellowtail said. “So we wanted to model our installation off of that fact. We were also inspired by artwork other people created out of plastic, like giant plastic animals, and other giant plastic water bottles.”  

Other pieces focused on the impact of plastic on wildlife and wetlands, single-use waste and consumer culture. Sophomore Jayda Campbell is a self-confessed coffee addict. Her group’s project was based on the fact that “400 million coffee cups are used each day.” 

“We have a Dutch Bros like, literally right there,” Campbell said, pointing to the Duch Bros across the street. “As someone who drinks coffee, and relies on the single-use plastics that coffee shops offer, my group wanted to make people think more about their reliance on plastic.” 

Her group sculpted a toppled-over coffee cup spilling plastic cups onto the ground. “Art speaks to a lot of people. Art is a big way to put important ideas out there. This project is supposed to show just how harmful plastic is, and that everyday things we don’t think about are bad for the environment,” Campbell said. 

RYLEIGH NORGROVE / THE CHRONICLE - "The Weightlifter."

The “It’s a Plastic World,” exhibit was a collaboration between the 9th and 10th graders of the “Humanqueries” course at A3. The “Humanqueries” program takes an interdisciplinary approach to learning, combining history, language arts and science classes into a singular “module” which all work toward one topic. In the science course, for example, they learned to calculate carbon footprint and plastic waste per year, day, and lifetime based on their own plastic usage. 

Scott Crowell is one of A3’s “Humanqueries” teachers who helped organize the event. 

“We spent all year working on ways to teach students that art is really the message behind something, not just the finished project,” Crowell said.  

Crowell said that the project was aimed at teaching kids critical thinking skills, and “raising the bar” after two years of distance learning. “I can speak for the whole team when I say we are really proud of these kids.”