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PalletFest Upcycles Denver

The live build-off spans both days of the event.

Pallet painting at 2014 PalletFest.

The pallet maze is a crowd favorite.

Artist Andrew Darr upcycles pallet wood into Colorado state flags.

The second annual PalletFest comes to Sculpture Park Aug. 29-30. Organizer Kenny Fischer says he hopes to educate and inspire Denver residents to upcycle.
"Pallets literally move the world," says Kenny Fischer, founder of PalletFest organizer Upcycle Events. "They say there are about 4 billion pallets in circulation worldwide."

In the U.S. alone, millions of these pallets are going to the landfill every year, he adds, and many of those are used only once.

But they're easy to recycle -- "Just pull off bad boards and put on good boards," says Fischer -- and some become garden mulch, but those pallets are the exception to the rule.

The pallet maze is a crowd favorite.PalletFest is countering this waste by building an entire festival around pallet upcycle. Held in Sculpture Park in summer 2014, the inaugural fest drew 5,000 people to Sculpture Park at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. The free two-day event included a live pallet build-off, a pallet maze and an upcycled fashion show. 

Pallets are the means to a greater ends, Fischer says. "Our real message is upcycling. Our goal is to take the upcycling movement and make it the upcycle industry."

Fischer worked in sales in Denver then decided to change and moved his family to the San Luis Valley for a "simpler" lifestyle. That led to his pallet epiphany.

"I was  building a chicken coop out of these wood pallets," he says. "You can build a wine rack out of them or a table or even a house. There's so much potential this wasted material has to offer."

Fischer returned to Denver with his family full-time after the first PalletFest. His Upcycle Events is now bringing pallet upcycling components to other events, like Meet in the Street on the 16th Street Mall.

Upcycled building blocks

"To me, pallets are Legos for adults," Fischer says. "We can create anything out of pallets -- anything."

Artist Andrew Darr upcycles pallet wood into Colorado state flags.Andrew Darr, a Thornton-based furniture maker, has been using pallets for materials for two years. He usually gets white and red oak pallets for free via Craigslist. "I like the idea to repurpose," he says, but notes that the wood is usually resilient and great for furniture. "It's a great feeling knowing there are plenty of others out there who understand the importance of preserving the things we have, and reducing the waste that destroys them."

Darr is making a U.S. map from pallets during the live build-off this year, and Colorado will feature a number of 3D sculptures protruding to signify historical high points.

Another returning artist, Sean Doherty's work is all over the Denver area, from the metal flowers lining South Broadway in Englewood to multiple sculptures on Morrison Road in Westwood to a new interactive installation on a vacant lot off Englewood Parkway, 100 Poppies. "It's sort of an odd experiment," he says.

The Larkspur-based Doherty uses a wide range recycled materials to upcycle all sorts of junk into insects, flowers and robots. "My brother calls me a crapsman, not a craftsman," he jokes. "What I find dictates what I make."

Getting people involved

At PalletFest, Doherty runs a metal stitching operation where people can create their own upcycled masterpieces.

He says the 2014 event had an interesting vibe. "There are so many people with ideas. I think that in itself is the event, It's a bit dumbfounding."

And that's really the point of PalletFest. "I wanted to create something that inspires people," Fischer says. "People don't normally leave a festival and say, 'I can do that.'"

He thinks he can bring in 10,000 attendees for year two in Denver. For 2016, he's hoping to launch a sister PalletFest, perhaps in San Francisco or Austin, and he's looking beyond the U.S. as well. 

"At first, I had national aspirations," says Fischer. "Now I have global ones."

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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