Live Visual Artist at Riot Fest Chicago / by Jen Bachelder

What I Want to Do With You

What if we partnered to create a collage to benefit a charity? What if your concert-goers were collecting trash to add to the collage? What if moments at the festival were documented in a crowdsourced work? Could we trace everyone’s steps straight from Douglas Park to an organization looking to do some good?

I think we could. I want to. I'd like to create a landscape of Riot Fest at Riot Fest using only garbage from Riot Fest.

What I Do

I make stuff out of trash. More specifically, I specialize in surreal landscapes made out of garbage.

One perk of this medium is that you can retrace my steps in the moments leading up to each new piece. You can literally see where I’ve been. For instance, the first piece in the line-up below features the logo of The Mighty Cone food truck in Austin, the top of a blue shoe box, and the foil from my favorite Chipotle burrito. It’s all evidence of a summer well-spent. The second collage features a map of San Diego and a map from Lollapolooza. Finally, the purple fish pull tabs came from cans of Lagunita's 12th of Never and the ocean floor is constructed with seemingly useless floppy discs. Each final piece is really just a collection of moments.

In addition to the studio pieces, each year I release a calendar featuring 12 new collages I made the year before. The cover of each calendar is usually a collection of sorts. When issuing a call for help collecting 2019's cover trash (event wristbands), it struck me that maybe Riot Fest was a platform for doing something bigger.


What You Do

Besides putting on my favorite music festival every year, you guys generously engage with the surrounding community. I love that you host volunteer days like Douglas Park Beautification, and that you encourage attendees to pick up trash throughout the festival. In fact, I bet you've incorporated green practices that I don' t even know about. What I do know is that you care about the park, and I'd really like to help spread the word.

Serendipitously, you also regularly nail my favorite buzzwords.

What We Can Do Together

I'd love to set up a booth at this year's Riot Fest to create a new mixed-medium collage, live, using only the trash folks give me on site. I'm imagining maps that get wrecked in the mud, cups that get crushed during the rush, clothes that get ripped in the pit, empty boxes from the beer tent... anything that would get tossed at the end of the night.

In a perfect world, bands could participate as well. Guitar pick? Set list? Sweaty shirt? PERFECTION.


I've had two opportunities to do a minuscule version of what I'm pitching here. Each time, the event shared information about what I was doing with their guests; however, the events were only a few hours long. While the stuff folks donated straight out of their purses and pockets was fantastic, it was pretty limited. It's so exciting to think about what could be made during a three-day event, especially if the visitors I speak with on day one are checking back in on days two and three.

What Riot Fest Provides

  1. A booth space, preferably near the trash bag pick-up (if you're still running that program). Although after reading this Chicago Tribune article, which seems to be equally critical and entertaining, I'm now wondering if I should be set up near the Lost and Found. Some of that stuff sounds great.

  2. Two pallets. I'm assuming these show up carrying supplies for the festival.

  3. Two passes to the festival. (Full transparency: I've already got my three-day pass because I'm not a rookie. However this goes down, you can't stop me from coming.) It's important to have a second set of hands because:

    1. A girl's gotta eat. 🍕

    2. They can help run social and participant engagement.

      1. Chatting with attendees:

        1. Collecting social handles.

        2. Tweeting images @folks when their contributions are used.

        3. Requesting specific colors or materials.

      2. Creating a time lapse of the build as the festival progresses.

        1. "The ferris wheel's starting to come together as @BulletForMyValentine takes the stage."

        2. "Can I finish the western sky before @TheAudition finishes their set?" (Speaking of, if you guys say yes, missing their set will be a serious sacrifice.)

    3. They can be sent on supply runs. 🍕🍕🍕

What I Provide

  1. A tent, 10x10' with walls that I can close up at evening end.

  2. A six-foot table and easel for working and display.

  3. The rest of the production supplies:

    1. Hammer, nails, staple gun, ...

    2. Tape, spray adhesive, super glue, ...

    3. Some starter trash

    4. Some paint

  4. Sweat and tears.

  5. The artwork.

The Finale

I'd really like to end this project with a donation to charity. Can we sell the piece? Silent auction? Best offer by festival close? Reproduce the piece as postcards or a calendar, with a percentage of sales also going to charity? I'm open to suggestions.

Ideally, if patrons are looking for trash for the collage, maybe they'll be more aware of what's on the ground around them. The general goal is to get visitors to participate in the pick-up, whether they're giving trash to me or putting it in a bin.

What do you say?

(STill not convinced?) Similar Projects


McDonald's has a problem with cups, especially at their HQ. They generously offer their employees access to free fountain drinks all over the campus. Unfortunately, the popularity of this benefit means they go through a lot of cups every day. They reached out to me to bring some attention to the issue.

I created a one-of-a-kind piece featuring used cups collected on campus (thankfully, a staff member volunteered to wash them before delivering to me). The work was featured at a few green-focused events and then auctioned off to benefit the Ronald McDonald House. The piece sold for roughly $750. 

Gallery Lock-In

Yellow Springs, Ohio is known for supporting working artists, so it's no surprise that their art council's got some tricks up their sleeves to get the community involved. I participated in a gallery lock-in, where two other artists and I were locked in an art gallery for three days. Our job was to create a full show's worth of work. We ate food delivered by community members, and were only allowed to create with supplies collected from the community before the doors were locked. And I mean locked. We weren't allowed to leave. They even covered the windows and cut out little peep holes so curious passersby could check up on us without spoiling the whole show. Weird and wonderful. It's amazing how much you can accomplish when you don't have access to the internet or a shower...

Ready when you are.