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The Visual Resource Collection at Ithaca College uses old 35mm slides to create pins.
Funky Junk: Upcycling in Downtown Ithaca

Visual Resource Collection creates artistic method to dispose of out-dated film slides

Digital images have replaced 35mm slide presentations at Ithaca College, inspiring Visual Resources Curator to conceive an art show this past fall displaying discarded slides, an alternative concept for recycling unused slides.

The endless cabinets filled with 35mm slides that took up the space of the Visual Resources Collection office at Ithaca College has dwindled down over the past ten years from 165,000 to 50,000, according to Curator Randi Millman-Brown. The downsizing of these resources is the result of the ever-changing advancements in technology – specifically the Internet.

This shift to the digital world left Millman-Brown with an enormous amount of slides in poor condition that she could not bring herself to send to a landfill. Her solution was to open up her storage boxes filled with the discarded slides and begin sorting them out. Bags of slides were created, each containing 50 apiece, and were offered to faculty, staff, and students at Ithaca College to be part of a slide art show called, “Turn Up the Transparency.” All that was asked of them was that by Nov. 1, 2012, they had a finalized work of art consisting of the pieces they had been given.

“I thought it would be interesting to have a fun and collaborative art project for the entire Ithaca College campus community,” Millman-Brown said, “Participants could do whatever they wanted with the slides for their projects.”

Millman-Brown was inspired by a Visual Resources Librarian at Eastern Michigan University, who had their own artistic show a couple years ago, and felt her slides could be used for a similar objective rather than being thrown away.

According to a Fall 2012 Survey taken at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, 29.5 percent of their slide collection was discarded or destroyed, and 32.6 percent was put into storage.

When Millman-Brown reached out to colleagues in visual resource collections all over the country, many gave her a similar response when it came to the topic of what they did with their slides: the University of Illinois at Chicago stated that half their collection went to a landfill and the other half was placed in storage, MIT disposed of their unused slides in a landfill, and Connecticut College sent half of their collection to the trash.

Allan Kohl, Visual Resources Librarian at Minneapolis College of Art & Design as well as the Former President of the Visual Resources Association and Current Treasurer of the VRA, has said he has welcomed the digital transformation of image presentations, but there are still negative side effects.

“I’ve welcomed in most respects the shift from analog – meaning the film-based slides – to digital imaging except for that loss of collegial input I had from my faculty about collection development and that’s something I sorely miss,” Kohl said.

At the height of the IC VRC’s slide use between 1993 and 1999, an average of over 20,000 slides were circulated per year throughout the faculty. Now, the Ithaca College slide collection sits in cabinets in the office and function as reference tools for the faculty

“(In the past) each faculty had their own light table and would spend hours searching through the slide collection, pulling slides for each lecture,” Millman-Brown said, “There was always someone in the VRC either pulling slides, filing slides, organizing their slides or getting new slides prepared for the collection (masking, remounting in glass mounts, adding labels).”

Presently, it is rare if a professor comes into the VRC to pull a slide to show in their lecture. Image presentations in classrooms now consist of digital images that have been collected and put together by professors who have access to VRC digital image databases like ARTstor, a nonprofit digital resource that provides over 1.5 million digital images.

Since the success of “Turn Up the Transparency,” Millman-Brown plans for another show in the upcoming year, but as of right now, old slides can be picked up from her a basket on her desk in the form of pins or seen as art work she has hanging in frames above her desk. As long as there are slides available, Millman-Brown plans on recycling them in methods that do not leave them wasted in a landfill.