Young Women’s Leadership Academy students worked hard and long preparing 24,000 donated water bottles for a giant sculpture coming together in the basement of the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.

Alongside New Jersey artist Willie Cole, the students made the pile of bottles needing to be prepped smaller and smaller. With heat guns, the students punctured holes in the bottom of the bottles, preparing them to be strung together with wire in the next phase of the Tarrant County Education Foundation art project.

Cole, who arrived in Fort Worth on Oct. 23, taught the students how to prepare the bottles. The project is expected to be completed by March 2024 and on display at the community arts center through the end of that month.

Dr. Arlene Barnett, the co-founder of the Tarrant County Education Foundation, had one goal: expose students to alternative career paths.

Willie Cole, an artist from New Jersey, grabs a bag of recycled water bottles Oct. 26. Cole and Fort Worth students will construct a giant sculpture from the bottles as part of the Tarrant County Education Foundation’s ArtCycling project. TCEF co-founder Dr. Arlene Barnett said the project is aimed at helping Fort Worth students see that there are career opportunities in the arts. “When do these students ever get the chance to work with an artist from outside of Texas?” she said. “We’d like to make an impact by making sure that we have exposed a large number of kids to creativity and thinking outside of the box.” (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Artist Willie Cole works through bags of recycled water bottles. Cole, who is visiting Fort Worth from New Jersey, said children and artists need to know that the real money and opportunities can be outside of your city and state. “I wouldn’t be able to make a living from my art if I stayed only in New Jersey,” he said. For the giant water bottle sculpture project, the Fort Worth community donated about 24,000 empty bottles, Tarrant County Education Foundation co-founder Dr. Arlene Barnett said. Through Oct. 28, students and Cole worked on preparing the bottles for the next phase of the art project. Students will continue to work on the bottles after Cole leaves for New Jersey, he said. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Willie Cole, a New Jersey artist, places bottles on a table to be prepped for an art project on Oct. 26. Cole specializes in recycled art. He began working with water bottles when he was tasked with an art project but given no budget. “Water bottles were easily available and cheap,” he said. Now, Cole has created multiple sculptures out of water bottles including chandeliers and a giant water bottle man in New Jersey. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Piles of bags full of donated water bottles sit in the basement of the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, where Fort Worth students prepared them for the next phase of an art project. Students from Young Women’s Leadership Academy of Fort Worth helped artist Willie Cole prepare bottles. An estimated 24,000 bottles were collected, Tarrant County Education Foundation co-founder Dr. Arlene Barnett said. “This is a whole community that joined us in this effort. I’m so grateful. Everything is wonderful. Everything is great. What I learned was that these artists are extremely important.” (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Young Women’s Leadership Academy students Juliet Salgado, left, and Itzayana Santos, right, remove labels from donated water bottles Oct. 26. The students formed an assembly line to prepare bottles for a giant water bottle sculpture project. Dr. Arlene Barnett, the co-founder of the Tarrant County Education Foundation, said students are the most integral part of the water bottle sculpture project. “We can’t leave art out of schools. We want to reach kids in a unique way.” (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Cole’s next visit to Fort Worth will be in March 2024, Barnett said. By that time, students will have prepped the water bottles, strung them together with wire into sheets and be prepared to finally construct the sculpture.

Cole has done water bottle sculptures in the past, both by himself and with area students in New Jersey.

“This is monotonous work. I can see how it can be boring. I’m usually in front of the television when I’m prepping bottles,” Cole said. “We need (students) to be steady to get this project done.”

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Cristian is a May 2021 graduate of Texas Christian University. At TCU, ArguetaSoto served as staff photographer at TCU360 and later as its visual editor, overseeing other photojournalists. A Fort Worth...