Transformative art

Transformative art

Surplus Katrina trailer turned garden on wheels debuts in Pasadena

By Joe Piasecki 07/16/2009

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Pasadena artists Jon Lapointe and wife Emily Hopkins are used to doing things on the move.

Directors of the local nonprofit Side Street Projects, the couple has developed programs that train adult and child artists in the practical and business skills needed to maintain a career in the arts and provide them with access to costly tools and equipment — all of it taking place in vehicles that have been converted into mobile arts laboratories. Their most widely known project, Alternate Routes, employs an old school bus to teach creative woodworking to elementary school students.

This week, Side Street will debut its latest resource on wheels: a government trailer that once housed victims of Hurricane Katrina but has been renovated into a community garden by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology architecture and design team.

The Armadillo, as it’s been dubbed, has room for as many as 400 plants and is also equipped to collect rainwater and produce compost.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, community members are invited to plant its inaugural herb garden, which will grow in pots from recycled two-liter plastic bottles hanging from racks on the trailer’s walls (bottle donations needed, says Lapointe).

“Art is very transformative, as is agriculture — turning nothing into something. We’ve always been interested in blurring the line between public art and public service,” says Lapointe, a CalArts graduate.

More than 90,000 surplus FEMA trailers currently sit unused in storage units and parking lots around the nation, but could be used as mobile classrooms or even shelter for the homeless, found MIT’s FEMA Trailer Project, which donated The Armadillo to the Pasadena nonprofit.

Using a biodiesel-fueled pickup truck purchased through a grant from the Pasadena Community Foundation, Lapointe and Hopkins recently hauled The Armadillo cross-country from MIT, stopping in New Orleans along the way.

“Why not encourage people to look at what other purposes these trailers could serve? They have an awful history, but if you look at them as artists you see so many possibilities. These could be a great resource,” says Lapointe, who plans to use The Armadillo as an educational resource for Pasadena-area schoolchildren.

To help plant The Armadillo, bring plastic bottles and a green thumb Saturday to the corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Orange Grove Boulevard. Call (626) 798-7774 or visit


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