Building Common Ground: Art Hat inspires creativity and environmental awareness

© Natasha Herbert Photography

By Bri Oldham, Cleveland Foundation Equity Communications and Engagement Fellow

What does it mean to build Common Ground? One Cleveland multi-media artist answers this question by highlighting the issue of plastic pollution and putting words into action through the creation of plastic-based art.

On Sept. 12, Ron Shelton, along with Sustainable Cleveland and Upcycle Parts Shop, held a virtual workshop sponsored by Common Ground to teach participants how to make to embellished art and sculpture. During the class, which showcased the internationally recognized Art Hat project, attendees of all ages also engaged in conversation about the importance of reducing and reusing waste. The idea of Art Hat derived from a project Ron began curating in 2013 called High Art Fridays. On a weekly basis, he’d put together a virtual exhibit, including pieces from artists around the world. Ron would then make the exhibits available on his personal Facebook page. The goal with Art Hat was to create beauty by handcrafting art using plastics from home waste while discussing ways to alleviate plastics pollution.

© Natasha Herbert Photography

Bringing people together and showcasing how to get creative when thinking of ways to be kinder to Earth was also the outcome Shelton hoped for when the Stand Apart Art Hat Parade took place on Oct. 10. The Stand Apart ArtHat Parade was organized by Nicole McGee as a fun follow-up to Ron’s workshop and as a way for participants to show off their Art Hats. Nicole cleverly included Art Hat in the name of the parade while also encouraging people to be socially distant. Tasked with changing their behaviors going forward, participants were invited to start a two-week plastic waste challenge in their homes.

Whatever your feelings about plastic and pollution, one thing most can agree on is that the world as we know it is changing. A poem I once wrote began with “evolution is a slow process.” A decade later, the speed at which we’re witnessing our atmosphere shift into a state that is not easily recognizable or healthy for us is made clear everywhere we look – from the 70-degree days Northeast Ohioans are enjoying in the second week in November to the growing battle to implement recycling laws. As we continue to navigate these unsettling changes, art can help us see the challenge from a new perspective.

Interested in seeing the projects? Arts Hats will be exhibited by The Art House Dec. 10 through Jan. 15.


  1. Ron Shelton

    Thank you Cleveland Foundation, for this article.

    Ron Shelton

  2. Karen Long

    Thanks for lifting up this project. Fascinating ingenuity. Glad to see Art House and particularly Mr. Shelton in the spotlight.

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