Artist-in-Residence Blog

All workshops, meet-ups, school visits and other events related to ACAC’s Artist-in-Residence program with Michelle Lougee are postponed due to the coronavirus. We are following Town of Arlington guidelines and will not resume public activities until we receive notice that it is again safe for people to gather. If you are interested in crocheting at home or joining a google group for project updates, please contact our public art curator Cecily Miller.

Plarn Art: It Takes A Village

Published: 2020-7-01
Artist-in-Residence Michelle Lougee on her time in Arlington, written in collaboration with ACAC Curator Cecily Miller
It’s mid-June and I’m sitting in my studio surrounded by soft, colorful sculptural shapes created by community members during my 8-month residency with the Arlington Commission for the Arts & Culture. Diverse volunteers – some accomplished crafters and others complete beginners – have crocheted more than 250 pieces: blue “bowls”, orange and green tubes, multi-colored funnel shapes, and large base forms. They used “plarn” – yarn created by cutting up single-use plastic bags, and the pieces are components for larger sculptural works that I have started to assemble for installation on the Minuteman Bikeway.


I wasn’t sure what to expect when Cecily Miller, Arlington’s Public Art Curator, approached me with a proposal for a collaborative public art project for Pathways 2020. My current work was prompted by learning about the horrors of ocean plastic pollution 15 years ago. It is also inspired by the qualities of natural forms – whether seed pods, nests, and ocean creatures or the microscopic organisms found in a drop of water. I transform plastic bags into biomorphic forms that draw parallels between plastic use and its effect on our environment. This is a labor-intensive process, and I am used to working alone. An artist-in-residence model offered an energizing opportunity to enlist a whole community in order to expand both the scale of my artwork and the impact of the message that we must reduce plastic to protect the environment. But would it work? Would people participate?


I am delighted to share that indeed, it did work; the impact of COVID-19 has been real, but so many people have generously joined in. The project enlisted a wide spectrum of community members. For many, participation was simply collecting and donating their plastic bags- over 1000 when we lost count! Others became plarn experts, meticulously cutting bags into loops and stringing them together into neat skeins and balls. For another group, it was learning to crochet for the first time, following a simple pattern and having the success of making specific shapes. Finally, a group of accomplished crafters were essential partners; they not only made elements, but taught their neighbors how to crochet. I am grateful to everyone who contributed!
I would like to share the story of my time here, so that when readers see an assortment of unfamiliar shapes hanging in the trees along the Bikeway near Spy Pond, they understand the unique evolution of this truly Arlington-based public art.


In November, my residency started with a warm welcome gathering at Adria Arch’s house where I met the Knitting Brigade, a group of people who had previously worked on Adria’s Ripple project, which was also displayed on the Bikeway. That first meeting was important; I was able to get a glimpse of how folks would respond to my project. Approximately 20 women gathered and everyone agreed to participate, many as invaluable crochet mentors!


In December, we had a more formal kickoff party at the Robbins Library where I met some of the partners for my Pathways project, like Arlington’s Recycling Coordinator Charlotte Milan, and Brucie Moulton from Sustainable Arlington. January brought workshops and our first “meet up” at the Fox Library – our home base. Their wonderful librarian, Amanda Troha, generously supported the project by housing a collection box for plastic bags, offering wall space to install my artwork, storage space for our materials, and the community room to hold our gatherings. In the Senior Center, I presented a talk and a lively crocheting workshop.


February was a busy month; it started with a workshop co-sponsored by ArtLinks, with help from Laurie Bogdan and Kimberly Harding. Next, with support from the PTO and art teacher Deb Compagna, I met with 4th and 5th graders at the Thompson School to show my work, tell them about my process, and teach them to make plarn. I also met some very interesting and involved parents there, including Leila Hatch, who works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I was invited to have a plarn making table at the school’s Science Explo in late February alongside a visiting inflatable whale from NOAA! At the Ottoson Middle School I met with their impressive Green Team and the active after school Art Club and their great leaders, Rachel Oliveri and art teacher Polly Ford. The students, already well versed in environmental issues, quickly picked up on my techniques and got to work plarning and crocheting. On March 9th, I installed my work at the Roasted Granola Cafe in Arlington Heights (with help from artist/curator Nayda Cuevas, and café owners Emily Patel and Sarah Short) without realizing how drastically everything was about to change.


When the pandemic hit, all of the community building and programming that Cecily and I worked so hard on was canceled, and everything was put on hold. At first, no one really knew how long social isolation would last. Once it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to gather in the ways we had, we put resources on the web page so that our project participants could access instructional videos and worksheets to continue work on the project from home. Under the new conditions some participants used their skills to sew masks and attention was understandably diverted from our public art project. The crochet community we had knit together was facing new demands.


People have adjusted and are still producing parts for the sculptures. I’ve been able to deliver pre-pandemic plastic bags from my own stash to some people, and both Cecily and I have picked up completed work from all over the town. I’ve been designing the final structures. Part of my process is to make custom wire supports for each soft component so that it holds its three dimensional shape. Once wired, the components can be assembled into the sculptural pieces ready for installation.


Recently I’ve been walking on the Bikeway with Cecily and project advisor Lorri Berrenberg to determine which specific trees will “host” the finished sculptures. Many of the forms are inspired by freshwater microorganisms that are in Spy Pond. I have selected 12 sites along the Minuteman near Spy Pond, between The Kickstand Cafe and Linwood Street.


I hope that all of the participants and contributors will take pride in the end result of this long-term project. I am so grateful for all of their time, effort, and support. This vibrant community and process has taught me a great deal, and I will miss working with everyone, but hope the finished installation will offer a happy reminder of our collaboration and a hopeful message of what we can accomplish working together.



Michelle’s Artist-in-Residence project was funded by grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Friends of the Fox Library, the ACAC Grants Committee as well as individual contributions and funds raised from the 2019 Chairful Where You Sit. Join us for an artist talk at 13 Forest Gallery date to be determined. For more information


Thank you!
Cecily and Michelle


A modified version of this article also appeared in the Friends of Spy Pond Park newsletter

Michelle posing with some plarn pieces and her feline helper.

The inspiration for the plarn shapes Michelle crafts.

March Project News!

Published: 2020-3-26
From Cecily Miller, Arlington Public Art Curator
March kicked off with activities in Arlington Heights: a new installation of Michelle's work in the Roasted Granola Cafe (1346 Mass Avenue, Arlington Heights) and two wonderful workshops at the Ottoson School with the afterschool Green Team and Art Club.  We were building momentum and then the Corona Virus Outbreak came to Arlington. We put all gatherings on hold and sent the message below out on March 12 to all our participants.  We are still thinking about what we can do to continue the project while maintaining social distancing and will post updates.  We encourage anyone who is interested in crocheting at home to email to discuss options and join our google group.
Dear Friends,
Things seem to be changing every day as we get more information about the Corona Virus and as our Town takes steps to protect the health of our community.  It has become clear to us that the best way forward is to suspend project activities and resume workshops and meet-ups when the situation is clearer and it is safe again for people to gather.
Our host partner, the Arlington Library, has postponed their programming for a month; the Commission for Arts & Culture will use their decision as a guide and reassess the situation periodically with the Library and other Town departments.
We are planning ways we can reach and gather people remotely, through videos, the website, and Facebook.  Please let us know if you have ideas, and we will be back in touch.
Earlier in the week, this seemed a difficult decision because our activities have been so positive that we wanted to keep going! Working together with all of you, we were building momentum.  More than a hundred adults have taken workshops and come to meet-ups; hundreds, if not thousands, of bags have been sorted and cut into plarn; people are learning how to crochet shapes to create a truly awesome and inspiring work of art. Kids at the Thompson School and teens at the Ottoson have taken to "plarning" like fish to water, and we are eager to see what they create. Our 21 wonderful community partners have enriched our activities with their perspectives on the environment, activism and the arts.  We feel so lucky to have accomplished so much in 10 weeks and thank you all for what you have contributed!
We aim to experience the joy of creativity and fabricate public art that we can all enjoy and be proud of.  But our ultimate goals are to bring people together to weave a stronger community and take a stand for a healthy world.  Viewed from that perspective, the choice is easy.  We will take a break and stay safe, protect our friends and neighbors, respect the power of a contagious disease and stay home to stop its spread. 
And, perhaps, if you are looking for something productive and absorbing to do during this time when we are all collectively taking a break from engagement with the busy world, you can crochet on your own!
Thank you!
Cecily and Michelle

Ottoson Art Club made plarn of many colors.

Photos 1&2: Roasted Granola exhibitions curator Nayda Cuevas helped Michelle install her colorful sculpture – made by crocheting plastic bags – along one brick wall. Many thanks to the Roasted Granola Cafe for hosting our exhibition and workshops; the workshops are postponed until it is safe to gather again. Photo 3: The Cafe is co-owned by sisters Emily Patel and Sarah Short (left and center). Curator and artist Nayda Cuevas is responsible for the Cafe’s great art exhibitions (second from left). On the right are artist-in-residence Michelle Lougee and ACAC curator Cecily Miller. Photo 4: Rachel Olivieri, coordinator of the Green Team activities for Arlington Public Schools, has welcomed us into the Thompson and Ottoson Schools; here she is with a giant ball of plarn made by the youth environmental activists in her afterschool clubs. Photo 5&6: The Art Club students and Green Team students met together to hear Michelle’s workshop presentation. They were excited to meet a visiting artist and make art with an strong environmental message: stop plastic from polluting our planet!  Photo 7: Artist and volunteer mentor Kimberley Harding showed students how to make plarn and crochet. One student focused on cutting up grey bags that she could use for the component that Kimberley has been making for the final sculpture. Photo 8: Many thanks to the Ottoson School art teachers Polly Ford and Kayla McKenna for welcoming Michelle into their weekly Art Club. We hope to return to work with all these great youth environmental leaders and artists in the spring when school reopens.

The Latest, Heading into March!

Published: 2020-3-01
From Cecily Miller, Arlington Public Art Curator

February Project News

While I've been away traveling in Australia, Arlington craftivists have been busy! On February 1, 35 people came to the Fox Library, joining Michelle and volunteers Lorri Berenberg, Laurie Bogdan, Brucie Moulton and Recycling Coordinator Charlotte Milan for our workshop co-sponsored by ArtLinks and Sustainable Arlington at the Fox. Art and activism mixed as we heard short presentations about waste reduction and climate change along with learning how to transform plastic bags into public art for the Minuteman Bikeway! 

A group of interested seniors met at the Council on Aging with Michelle and ACAC commissioners Adria Arch and Kimberley Harding; they heard more about Michelle's work and learned how to make plarn and crochet some of the elements needed for Michelle's final sculptures.  We're counting on them to scale up our project! This brings the number of adults who have been introduced to Michelle's techniques to over 80 – we hope to hit 100 in March!

Michelle has a great installation of her sculpture up in the Fox Library; if you haven't already, please stop by and see it.  The Arlington Cub Scouts will be coming to learn about it, meet Michelle, and make plarn on a March 14 field trip. 

We've also collected hundreds of plastic bags thanks to collection boxes at Robbins and Fox Libraries and the DPW as well as Arlington Public School Green Team student activists.

Michelle visited 4 art classes at the Thompson School as part of an initiative to teach kids about the impact of ocean plastics and climate change; Niels Berger, Arlington artist, Thompson parent, and Extinction Rebellion activist has also been visiting and showing students how to make prints of whales and other endangered ocean creatures. The school and its active Green Team organizes a science day with parent participation; this year the February 29 Thompson School Science "Explo" will feature a giant inflated sculpture of a whale visiting from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) to teach our (almost coastal) community about ocean creatures and ocean health, and how we can help. We'll be there with a plarn making table and some of Michelle's sculpture to increase awareness of the dangers of ocean plastic.


So many people and organizations are coming together to make this project possible! Many thanks to our crew of Volunteer Mentors who are helping beginners get the hang of how to crochet and to our generous supporters: the Friends of the Fox Library, the Mass Cultural Council, and now the Thompson School PTO for making these activities possible!  Thanks also to our partners for their support in February: Sustainable Arlington, Arlington Public School Green Teams and Thompson School, and Arlington DPW, plus the amazing FOX LIBRARY and Amanda Troha, Branch Librarian!

(Left) Ava, Maya, and Elizabeth plarning at the Thompson School Explo. (Right) Brucie Moulton of Sustainable Arlington brought her ball of plarn made from plastic bags to the February Meet Up.

Michelle Lougee at the February workshop at the Fox Library

Plarn volunteers meet at the Council on Aging.

Michelle instructs a volunteer how to make plarn at the Fox Workshop.

Volunteers at Council on Aging workshop demonstrate how making community art (and plarn!) is a team effort!

February News on the Artist-in-Residence Project

Published: 2020-1-29

"Ubiquitous" on Display at the Fox

Lots of exciting news from our Artist-in-Residence Project with Michelle Lougee! You can see “Ubiquitous” – an installation of Michelle’s sculpture on view at the Fox Library thanks to a grant from the Friends of the Fox (who have also generously underwritten library workshops). In February and March, Arlington Cub Scouts will visit the Fox to see this artwork, meet Michelle, and make plarn. 


February Workshop and School Science Explo

Michelle will give a workshop at the Council on Aging on February 11, and visit 4th and 5th grade art classes at the Thompson School.  Perhaps most exciting of all, we are participating in the Thompson School’s Science Explo on February 29, 1 to 4 pm. The Explo will feature a giant life-sized inflated humpback whale visiting from Washington DC’s NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). A tour inside this whale is a highlight of NOAA’s community education activities, along with stories of whales’ crucial habitat in Stellwagen Banks Marine Sanctuary at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay.  Stop by our plarning table, and learn more from NOAA about ocean ecology and preserving the health of sea creatures large and small. Banning single-use plastic is a crucial strategy for protecting whales and wildlife, but there are other things you can do!

These colorful shapes were inspired by single cell organisms observed through a microscope and transformed by the artist’s imagination into whimsical creatures that spread across the wall of the Fox Library. Crocheted from plastic bags by ACAC Artist-in-Residence Michelle Lougee.

Artist-in-Residence Project to hold free workshops January 4 and February 1

Published: 2020-1-03

“I know what we should call it…” said project advisor and Arlington Recycling Coordinator Charlotte Milan. “Plarn Art to Save the Planet!” And this phrase perfectly captures the intent of the ACAC’s first artist-in-residence project: to combine environmental activism and public art for the public good. Fiber artist Michelle Lougee will lead the community in making a large-scale installation for the Minuteman Bikeway. And the material is…crocheted single-use plastic bags! Insidious, destructive, and pervasive bags will be transformed into art with an underlying message: protect the environment, wildlife, and people by banning unnecessary plastic.  

“We have had a such great response to our January 4 workshop (1:30-4:30) at the Fox Library that we have added another on February 1 from 10 am to noon” said ACAC curator Cecily Miller.  “Winter seems like the perfect time of year to gather and create in this cozy neighborhood library.”  

Workshops include a slide talk by Michelle about her work as well as demonstrations of how to cut up plastic bags into “plarn” and how to make some of the components that will be combined into finished sculpture. More casual Meet-Ups on January 25 and February 22 will provide a forum to get tips and feedback, take on new assignments, and show off work.  

“Whether you are a beginner or an expert, we hope to enlist your help,” said curator and arts activist Lorri Berenberg, also a project advisor. “There is a role for everyone, and broad participation will mean we can build a bigger installation with more impact.” The project builds on the success of Ripple, a yarn-storming installation led by Adria Arch and created by the Arlington Knitting Brigade.  Several Brigade members have volunteered to serve as mentors for people new to crocheting, including Janet Peluso, Katrina Bernstein-Lewicke, Nora Mann, Stephanie Mckay, Marina Straus, Betsy Beninger, and Holly Lebowitz-Rossi.

Arlington gave a warm welcome to Michelle Lougee at a December 9 reception generously hosted by the Robbins Library. “The kickoff event was energizing and inspiring, with over 75 people in attendance!” Michelle Lougee reported. “It was wonderful to meet so many people excited to participate, and to hear updates on the serious recycling initiatives in Arlington.  Plus we enjoyed original songs by 5th grader Judah Almond – all with an environmental theme! I am delighted to be engaging with THIS community and look forward to productive collaboration in the months ahead.”

This Artist-in-Residence project is funded in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency, and the Arlington Commission for Arts & Culture’s Grant Committee, a local agency supported by the Mass. Cultural Council.

Artist-in-Residence Michelle Lougee works with Adria Arch, and the knitting brigade.

Artist-in-Residence Featured on ACMi’s ‘Talk of the Town’

Published: 2019-12-11

Arlington Community Media Inc. host James Milan invited ACAC's public art curator Cecily Miller and artist Michelle Lougee onto “Talk of the Town” to discuss ACAC’s exciting new Artist-in-Residence project. Designed to engage the whole community in creating the next public artwork for the Minuteman Bikeway, the Residency is part of PATHWAYS, a program that brings art to one of the busiest public spaces in the Cultural District. (Fun Fact: more than 320,000 Trips were counted on the Minuteman Bikeway from July to October, 2019) 


Milan interviewed Lougee about her career and motivation as an artist as well as how her techniques – transforming trash into art – connect with environmental activism.  Lougee began incorporating plastic into her work 15 years ago, when she heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how plastic threatens the health of the oceans. While she aims to create something beautiful, she also hopes to raise awareness about the dangers of single-use plastic and encourage its elimination. To support this goal, Miller is enlisting help from many community partners whose mission is to protect the environment.


During the Residency, Lougee will lead free workshops and meet-ups at the Fox Library and other locations; everyone is invited to learn how to crochet with plastic yarn and contribute to the final sculpture. Miller also explained how this “craftivist” project builds on the installation of colorful sleeves that Adria Arch and the Arlington Knitting Brigade created for 12 trees along the Bikeway in 2017.


Watch the program and learn more about this exciting new project to create art with an environmental message for our public spaces. You can join in by attending a workshop, or by emailing the organizers for directions for making your own “plarn” contributions!

Kick Off Reception

Published: 2019-12-02

Please join us on Monday, December 9, 7-9 pm at the Robbins Library Community Room for a festive reception to welcome Michelle Lougee to Arlington. In addition to hearing more about Michelle's work and plans for her Artist-in-Residence projects, we'll hear from Green Teams and Zero Waste Committee anti-plastic activists and live music from 5th grader Judah Almond.

SAVE THE DATE: December 9: Meet Our New Artist-In-Residence

Published: 2019-11-05

To kick off the residency, there will be a reception on Monday, December 9, from 7 to 9 pm hosted by the Robbins Library, one of the PATHWAYS project partners. The public is welcome to meet Michelle Lougee, see some of her work, and hear more about plans for free public workshops, where participants can learn her techniques and help make sculpture for the ACAC’s PATHWAYS initiative. Lougee crochets her inventive shapes from “plarn” – yarn made of slices of plastic bags. Please bring your own bags to donate to the project, especially newspaper subscription delivery bags.

Please contact Cecily Miller for more information or to sign up for workshops.

[ngg src="galleries" ids="19" display="basic_thumbnail" thumbnail_crop="0"]

ACAC Awarded Grant for PATHWAYS Expansion

Published: 2019-10-31

The ACAC has received a $2,500 grant from the Mass. Cultural Council to bring Michelle Lougee to town as Arlington’s first PATHWAYS artist-in-residence for a year-long collaborative public art project. Lougee is well known in the Boston area for her colorful sculpture, crocheted from recycled plastic bags and inspired by sea creatures, seed pods, and microscopic life forms.

Lougee normally works alone to execute her carefully crafted sculpture. Her goal in Arlington is to invite community members to help her create a larger scale artwork that will send a message about the power of a community coming together to reduce plastic and protect wildlife and the environment. Arlington has been pro-active in environmental efforts, banning plastic bags from retail sales and reducing plastics in school lunchrooms. The ACAC and its Public Art Curator, Cecily Miller, hope that Arlington residents of all ages will participate in this creative project that will carry an environmental message into one of the Town’s busiest spaces – the Minuteman Bikeway – where thousands will see it every day.