A chandelier of water bottles dangles above a labyrinth of used cat-food cans, butter tubs and half-gallon jugs.

Plastic bags, knotted together to form one giant beach bag, hang fashionably from a mannequin's arm nearby. In one corner is a table made of floppy discs, with Tupperware lanterns hovering above.

Don't be fooled. This is not a recycling center but an artists' gallery - the kind of room that gives the non-artist a precious glimpse into the creative mind.

For the third year, the Art Institute of York's interior-design department has challenged students, faculty and community members to create something that fits an abstract theme.

This year's gallery features art of all kinds, but the show is tied together by a common theme - containment.

Dubbed "Contain Yourself," the exhibit will remain open to the public until Jan. 31. Anyone is welcome to stop by and check it out between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays.

The exhibit opens tonight. A public reception is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. at the Mike Klinedinst Gallery at the school, 1409 Williams Road.

Recyclables as art emerge as a popular idea in the gallery, but that's not all that's there.

Among the several dozen creations, for example, a Philadelphia artist's painting of a bird's nest hangs on one wall, priced at $3,000. There are hand-thrown porcelain jars and a colorful, painted dresser.

Each year, faculty members start working on the annual exhibit nearly five months ahead of time, said Philip E. Smith, an interior-design instructor at the school.

Some students receive class credit for participating. But there's a larger lesson here, Smith said.

"The creative process doesn't end at the four-year degree point," Smith said. "I think it's important for the student body to see that the faculty is involved with their own creative endeavors."

It's also an opportunity for teachers to stretch their own creative muscles.

"The desire to create is innate," Smith said. "It's part of who you are."

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.