“Creating a dialogue with the material”: Sustainable initiative gives theatre sets a new life in Sculpture Program

From left: Wood Design Instructor and Studio Manager Ed Felton, Joseph Kattou ’19 ’23g (Sculpture), Theatre Technical Director Sylviane Sherwin and Sculpture Instructional Support Technician Kelly McGrath


There was a time when the wood used to create theatrical sets in SUNY New Paltz productions would be discarded after use. However, a new initiative created by theatre and art students and faculty is preserving those materials and remaking them anew.

The project came about when Sylviane Sherwin, technical director for the Department of Theatre Arts, noticed a bunch of discarded materials in her office.

“I inherited a very big room with a lot of materials that we could no longer use,” she said. “I reached out to the Art Department because I had heard that they use similar materials for projects.”

Instructional Support Technician Kelly McGrath and Ed Felton, the wood design instructor, answered the call. They helped give that wood a second life in the Sculpture Program, which in recent years has made it a point of emphasis to integrate sustainability learning outcomes across their curriculum.

“We are creating a dialogue with the material,” said McGrath. “We are thinking of wood as a living material that has a whole lifecycle existing before it becomes an art material.”

One beneficiary of the program was recent MFA graduate Emilie Houssart ’22g (Sculpture), whose spring 2022 thesis installation was made entirely from upcycled materials from the theatre department, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, Sculpture faculty and local reuse sites

“Our department prioritizes intersectional sustainability, from community health to conscious material usage,” Houssart said. “Sculpture doesn’t have to be toxic – we learned it can be low-impact, and it can be entangled with the world in generative ways too.”


Spring 2022 MFA Thesis by Emilie Houssart ’22g, “Blind, from Plain Sight,” which used materials upcycled through this sustainability initiative


This upcycling project adds to New Paltz’s commitment to furthering sustainability initiatives and foster environmentally sustainable practices on campus through collaboration among students, faculty, staff, and regional partners.

“The sustainability practiced at the New Paltz Sculpture program is a large part of what drew me to pursuing my MFA here,” said Joseph Kattou ’19 ’23g (Sculpture). “I believe that incorporating upcycled materials contributes greatly to equity in the education process, allowing greater access to materials for our students.”

Visit our Office of Campus Sustainability website to learn more about green initiatives at SUNY New Paltz.