YMCA’s “Reclaim” exhibit features reused materials in artful forms

For artist Nathan Westerman, nothing about his colorful, latex-covered plywood pieces is complicated. He doesn’t want it that way.

None of his art is political either, nor does it have any underlying message woven deep into its artistic minutiae. For him, there’s a subtlety about how one color is plaited to another. There’s also a curiosity in imagining the previous life his materials might have lived before they were all reincarnated into the round, vibrant plywood installations.  

Westerman’s “Reclaim” exhibit has been on display for free at the University YMCA since Aug. 28, and it is scheduled to run through Oct. 19. 

As some artists may spend excessive amounts of money creating their work, Westerman is different. He’s a plywood-pinching Urban Outfitters display designer at the Green Street location, and he makes use of most of the scraps he produces while at work at Urban Outfitters. 

Westerman collects the discarded and leftover material from his work, and uses the materials for his next exhibit. Except when he’s finished with them, the scraps hardly resemble leftovers.

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“I think I’m using these materials at work, and I kind of give them second life as opposed to (them) going into a landfill,” he said.

Westerman has had a long history with the University and with the surrounding community. 

He graduated with an MFA in FAA in 2004, and has been a prominent figure in the Champaign-Urbana community since, according to Ann Rasmus, the YMCA’s program director. He has held exhibits at local venues like Boneyard Arts Festival, Indi Go Artist Co-op and Amara Yoga & Arts. Westerman has exhibited his work across the country as well, and his work has a repertoire that includes painting, sculpture, photography, video and installation. 

“Reclaim” is an exhibit that, for many of those working there, represents what the University YMCA is all about. 

The University YMCA has long partaken in service projects that promote the salvaging of used materials and provisions, with its annual “Dump and Run” collection program as the most prominent example. And fittingly, 100 percent of the components used in Westerman’s exhibit are recycled and reused, an ethic that Rasmus said she supports.

“So much of Nathan’s works is about reusing and reproducing materials and part of the mission of the Y is to take care of the environment so we were excited to start the fall Y season with his exhibition which is clearly about repressing and putting reused materials to good use,” Rasmus said.

The YMCA is used to hosting art exhibits on its first floor, and it is a practice that Executive Director Mike Doyle believes has helped bridge the existing gap between students and the local Champaign-Urbana community.

“We really work on developing students and student leadership skills, and part of the role that we really see our Y playing is serving this bridge between the community and students on campus, so we really try and connect students with what’s going on in the community and have had a long history of doing that,” Doyle said. “One of the things that we’re real proud of is the fact that we’re able to have local artists show real work on campus and to give students, faculty and staff an opportunity to work with local artists and to see their works on campus. So it’s an important component on how we view our whole role.”

Rasmus said she hopes the exhibit conveys a positive reaction from its audience.

“I think it’s a really beautiful exhibit, and I think it has a really contemplative quality, and so I hope that people spend some time and find something unexpected and that the exhibit allows them to contemplate some things and share the artwork.”

Eliseo can be reached at [email protected].