For a better world: Turkey’s 1st upcycling festival lifts hopes


It was an intriguing weekend for environment enthusiasts and art lovers as worlds collided in Turkey’s first upcycling festival, where waste was given a second chance in art installations that questioned environmental issues and advocated sustainability.

The Upcycle Istanbul Art and Design Festival, a sustainable social impact platform that kicked off with the slogan of “Transformation that adds value to the past,” attracted great attention when it launched on June 4 at Istanbul’s Museum Gazhane. The event puts upcycling at center stage – a concept also known as creative reuse, which entails transforming by-products, waste materials, and useless or unwanted products into new materials or products perceived to be of greater quality, such as those with artistic or environmental value.

The festival aimed to raise awareness about upcycling and efficient use of resources, to show through art and design that waste can be recycled and reused, and to draw attention to the sustainable environmental benefits of all kinds of transformation.

Within the scope of the festival, which took advantage of the transformative power of art and design, various workshops, exhibitions and performances inspired by upcycling were held. Upcycle Istanbul, where environmentally conscious participants took part, strengthened the hope of becoming a nature-friendly society and achieving a sustainable life.

Changing perspectives

In the festival, which hosted five different workshops for two days, the participants had the opportunity to personally experience the upcycling process. Participants, who gave a second life to waste by designing completely different products such as brooches or bags from waste materials, were also given information on subjects such as composting, recycling and label literacy. The workshop participants, who had fun by merging waste with creativity and became aware of both upcycling and recycling issues, expressed that their perspectives toward waste have changed.

The “Dirt” installation by Bilal Yılmaz, which says “Dirt is the color of labor,” can be seen at the Upcycle Istanbul Festival, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 4, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Upcycle Istanbul)

The Fix & Play event series prepared by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Market was one of the most interesting events of the festival. Taking a stand against the destruction of products due to small tears, overproduction and consumption, the event showed how repairing can be a perfect game as participants personalized a product that would normally be thrown away and turned it into something original.

Working with children

As part of the festival, a recycling workshop for children was organized in cooperation with the Istanbul Environmental Management, Industry and Trade Company (ISTAÇ). Zero waste training was given to children in the workshop prepared by ISTAÇ’s expert personnel. Having fun with a recycling basketball game, children also got the chance to take a photo with their families in the photo shoot area specially prepared for June 5, World Environment Day. A paint set was given to the children as a souvenir of the Upcycle Festival.

The 'Yeşil Alan' installation by Ilgın Seymen at the Upcycle Istanbul Festival, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 4, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Upcycle Istanbul)

The “Yeşil Alan” installation by Ilgın Seymen at the Upcycle Istanbul Festival, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 4, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Upcycle Istanbul)

Toward a sustainable life

As part of the festival, which was designed with inspiration from the transformative and healing power of art, several artists who worry about the problems of the planet and society took part with their live performances, including Bilal Yılmaz, Ilgın Seymen, Gamze Eskinazi, Yasemin Sayınsoy and Murat Fesih Avcıbaşı.

Curated by Artnivo, the program proved once again how art plays a key role for social awareness and transformation.

Fashion was also part of the festival as Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University’s Fashion Design Department launched the “Modular Eco Cycle Exhibition” with the slogan “Use your clothes more, pollute the world less,” and Bilgi University’s Textile and Fashion Design Department launched the ” Designing Abundance” exhibition.

Creative and sustainable designs, prepared by developing solutions to the problems experienced in the fashion industry, made the participants question their relationship with their clothes again.

Colorful performances

As part of the festival, Turkey’s first upcycled stage was designed by architect Oğul Öztunç with the aim of generating use-value from waste materials. Used pallets were collected from all over Istanbul for the stage. The stage was covered with plates from recycled cardboard beverage containers supplied by Tetra Pak.

The band Iki Kişi perform at the Upcycle Istanbul Festival, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 5, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Upcycle Istanbul)

The band Iki Kişi perform at the Upcycle Istanbul Festival, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 5, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Upcycle Istanbul)

On the special stage, Fungistanbul, a trio that began experimenting with a sound they called “trash oriental” in 2019 and designed musical instruments from waste via upcycling, and the young team Iki Kişi performed their songs. Radio Voyage, which broadcasted throughout the festival, also added to the event’s atmosphere.

upcycle talks

Interviews on the subject of sustainability were interesting at the festival, where conversations were held with Harvard Business Review Turkey. These pleasant conversations with inspiring guests in the fields of art, design and sustainable impact reached thousands of viewers on the festival’s and HBR’s Youtube accounts.

Upcycle Istanbul Platform founders Arzu Özarı Semiz and Şebnem Alp Alkın spoke with the press about the festival.

“We are very pleased with the inclusiveness of the festival, the fact that it reached people of all ages and that we were able to convey the messages we wanted to convey through many different channels,” Upcycle Istanbul’s founders said.

A participant works at a workshop at the Upcycle Istanbul Festival, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 4, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Upcycle Istanbul)

A participant works at a workshop at the Upcycle Istanbul Festival, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 4, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Upcycle Istanbul)

“It is pleasing that participation and interaction are high in such a festival where we prioritize the transformative power of art and upcycling. Our biggest goal in running the festival was to make a social impact, and this weekend we saw that we really succeeded. In addition, the interest shown by the participants in the art installations and performances in the festival area motivated us a lot.

We are determined to make the festival traditional in the coming years. We will continue on our way by increasing the impact with different projects that we will realize in certain periods of the year.”

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