MARQUETTE - The bags look like ordinary messenger bags, yet small solar panels located on the front hint at another purpose.
They are called "Noon Solar," created by the artist group JAM, and they are bags with solar panels that produce electricity to power cell phones, iPods and other devices on the go.
The bags are part of Northern Michigan University's new art exhibit "Beyond Green: Toward A Sustainable Art."
"I think it's a good show in the way it engages people with social and political issues, revolving around the environment," said Melissa Matuscak, director and curator of the NMU Devos Art Museum.
More than 20 artists are part of the traveling exhibit that has been displayed all over the nation. Marquette is its last stop.
"It isn't just about reusing material; instead, it is thinking more creatively, thinking more broadly about material," said Chicago artist Sara Black. "(It's) using art as a tool to rethink how we exist in the world."
Black is part of the artist group Material Exchange. She collaborated with other artists to produce a reading area with benches and a table made out of materials from a museum that were supposed to be thrown out, including wood, Plexiglas and moving blankets. It's called upcycle: "a process in which waste materials are put to new uses without being broken down into component parts."
The reading area is stocked with books on environmental issues, loaned from the Peter White Public Library, Matuscak said. It's a place where people can learn about taking first steps to become more eco-friendly, she added.
The exhibit also features a display that reminds people to evaluate how much energy it takes to get food from its place of origin to the grocery store, structures that use plastic bottles as a building material and other sustainable designs.
Matuscak said the exhibit touches upon the larger issues connected with the green movement.
"I hope that it brings about a better awareness that this (the environment) is a global problem," she said.
Also part of the exhibit will be a workshop with Black, her colleague John Preus, the Superior Watershed Partnership, NMU and North Star students. During the week of January 26 they will set up a sculpture created from an old fishing boat on the ice of Teal Lake in Negaunee that will eventually serve as a fish habitat in the lake when the ice melts.
The exhibit officially opens Monday and can be viewed until March 30. A reception will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. To get more information on the show's accompanying visiting artists series, call 227-2235 or go to www.nmu.edu/devosartmuseum