I have a very close relationship with buttons. You could call it button love. When I was a kid visiting my grandmother’s house I discovered her button box. Inside, the buttons were like little gems — mother-of-pearl and fabric covered ones that matched the dresses they came off of. Shiny gold buttons that looked like they could be from an army uniform – and maybe they were. I felt rich as I plunged my hands into the box and let the buttons slip through my fingers. I strung them together to make necklaces or divided them into piles and used them as game pieces with my sister. I didn’t know it then but I was a creative reuser.
It was no surprise to anyone who knew me that after graduating from college with a degree in Arts Education and stints in the film and fashion businesses I wound up at NYC’s premiere government funded Creative Reuse Center, Materials for the Arts where all materials are free to member organizations.
What is Materials for the Arts?
Materials for the Arts is housed in a 35,000 square foot facility located in Long Island City, Queens, New York. Similar to Costco in layout and filled with all types of reusable materials donated by local businesses and individuals, membership is available to New York City- based nonprofits with ongoing arts programming, public schools and city agencies. On any given day you can find household items, set pieces, furniture, paint, hardware items, Plexiglas and frames. What people don’t need, can no longer use or just want to get rid of they can donate instead of dumping.
Educating the Art Educators to Use Reused Art Materials
When I first arrived in 1998, public school art teachers were just getting access to Materials for the Arts. I kept hearing – “Where are the water colors, where is the Tempera paint?” As a former art teacher, I knew that for these teachers to really benefit from these non-traditional materials, we would need to start training them — we needed to educate the educators.
Sixteen years later we are proud to say that we are the largest provider of all types of materials to the New York City public schools. Now teachers come and say they feel like kids in a candy store.
We have taught teachers to appreciate and recognize the unique learning experience that occurs when their students use non-traditional materials. For example, 2nd grade students at PS 209 in Whitestone, Queens were studying urban, suburban and rural communities.
Under the leadership of our artists-in-residence, they were able to create mosaics out of CD cases and decorate them with all sorts of found objects. They learned math as they used a grid to divide up their original drawings. They learned how to work independently as they crafted their own CD case and how to work collaboratively once all of the cases were completed.
Why Donations Are So Important
Due to decreased budgets, teachers generally cannot afford the types of materials used in our workshops and stocked on our warehouse floor. Donors — businesses and individuals, help to ensure that students and teachers from all over have equal access to a rich variety of materials for use in their classrooms and after school programs.
How to Solve the Global Resource Problem?
Whether you know it or not, you are probably a creative reuser. Now you need to become a creative donor! Allow others to take your excess, overstock or no longer needed items and repurp
ose and reuse them in hundreds of creative ways.
What’s in it for you? Well, donating frees up costly real estate, keeps valuable items from going into the landfill, and you can get a tax write-off. Most importantly, your donations establish connections with the people who are taking your items and reusing them, and that helps build community.
A Number of Years Ago, I Was Introduced to A Master Reuser, El Anatsui
El Anatsui is a contemporary African artist. His work includes reusing labels, corks and bottle tops. He refashions these materials into shimmering wall hangings resembling fabric. El has said that one of the wonderful things about working with these materials is that they carry the DNA of the person who handled them, owned them or used them before.
When you donate your items for reuse instead of dumping or discarding them, you are handing off a part of yourself to the artist, student or teacher who will put their own stamp on them. Your DNA passed on to their DNA. It is the life cycle of creativity.
You Can Be a Creative Reuser, Too
You are surrounded in your home or office or workplace with literally tons of materials that can be repurposed or refashioned or reused. You have the power to be the traffic cop and redirect these items – put them in the dump or put them into the hands of people who can use them. The choice is yours. The planet is calling. Join the conversation. #CreativeReuse
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