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Community Art: Plastic Bag Mural Aims to Bridge Widener and Its Neighbors

Plastic Bag Mural
Artist and adjunct professor Sarah Heyward installs a plastic bag mural on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge.

Artist and adjunct professor Sarah Heyward knows bridges can either be a space to connect or a way to avoid interaction. That’s why she launched a community art project aimed at learning about Chester residents and Widener students – while helping them more deeply connect.

Over two days last week, she and volunteers created a plastic bag mural on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, which connects Widener’s campus to residential areas on the opposite side of I-95.

“The bridge was interesting to me because it invites you to walk over,” Heyward said. “It serves as a metaphor to invite people to a space to congregate.”

Her project was supported in part by the Chester Made Project, made possible with funding from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Partners include the City of Chester, Artist Warehouse, Widener University, The Public Workshop, and Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

The idea for the project arose when Heyward was struck by the daily discarding of single-use plastic bags. These bags are banned in her home state of California, and she wanted to create a project in Chester that allows both communities to explore art through recycling and repurposing.

As a newcomer, she also wanted to get to know this vibrant community. Heyward has been committed to educating others through art and teaching at Widener and other universities since she completed a master of fine arts in painting from Tyler School of Arts in Philadelphia in 2017.

Plastic Bag Mural Volunteer
Widener students volunteer to help with the plastic bag mural installation.

She collected donated bags for the project, with any unused bags going to either recycling facilities that take plastic or to local Chester businesses that want them.

With the bags collected, she and volunteers tied or stapled them to the black chain link fence on the bridge, creating a fall-colored mural that is visible from the highway below.

Blair Nowacki, a sophomore nursing major in Heyward’s art appreciation course, joined her professor and classmates to install the mural. After learning this semester about the principles of art, she was excited to put the lessons into practice.

“It looks awesome,” she said. “I love all the colors outside, and I’m happy to be part of it.”

With the project complete, Heyward plans to tend to the bags and uninstall them at the first sign of deterioration. While the cleanup effort is her responsibility, she welcomes collaboration with other artists who may want to use the space for their projects.

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