People walk by the front window display of the Big Blue Bus transit store on Broadway Tuesday morning. Students with the Los Angeles Art Institute in Sunset Park used recycled materials to create the winter wonderland. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — This holiday season, two local art students are showing commuters just how compatible recycling and art can be.

Anyone waiting at the Big Blue Bus stop on Broadway just west of the Third Street Promenade can expect a view of the heavy construction on the new mall across the street. But Brooks Leonard, one of the 21 million passengers that ride the bus line every year, is pleasantly surprised by the display in the window of the Big Blue Bus’ Transit Store.

At first glance, the display is a simple winter wonderland with a forest of birch trees, snowflakes, flying reindeer and a delicate blanket of snow. In reality, everything, from the trees to the wreaths, is made up of recycled or natural materials. Used bus maps, tokens, pine cones, water bottles, discarded tree branches and old bicycle tires have been skillfully transformed from trash into art.

“You can’t tell at all,” said Leonard, who rides the bus every day. “It’s pretty cool!”

The brains behind these imaginative and eco-friendly holiday decorations belong to two interior design students from the Art Institute of California-Los Angeles, located on Ocean Park Boulevard. Margallet Yosef and Dimitra Dorbacopoulos — who are currently completing their fourth and final year at the institute — were selected for the project because of their exemplary work performance, both in and out of the classroom.

The students hoped that by doing the display, they could “set an example to society that the beauty in artwork lies not only in creativity, but in the process as well,” said Dorbacopoulos. The two worked for days, molding and painting old system maps to look like trees, shredding plastic bags into snow, and gluing antlers onto toy buses to create a fleet of reindeer suspended in the air on invisible thread.

The Big Blue Bus’ slogan “Ride blue, go green” aptly sums up the system’s commitment to the importance of using natural resources to help the environment. In keeping with this message, Dorbacopoulos and Yosef made it a point to use primarily recycled or natural materials in the hopes of encouraging both action and awareness.

“We hope that everyone who sees this display will be inspired to be more resourceful and maybe even to utilize materials found all around us to improve the spaces where we live and work,” she said.

Yosef said that in addition to the environmental message, the students hoped to encourage people to make their own decorations for their home this holiday season.

“We think it can be fun and also inspiring for children to gather items they find around the house and turn them into something beautiful,” she said. “A little creativity really can go a long way.”

So far, the display is a big hit with Big Blue Bus passengers and pedestrians alike.

“We get people coming in all the time — they’re just amazed when they find out everything is recycled,” said William Mondragon, one of the customer relations specialists who works in the transit store. “It definitely puts us in a better mood; it makes us feel like it’s Christmas already.”

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