Reuse, recycle, renew!
Skin Tones in Watercolor
Zen and the Art of Inspiration
To Sleep Perchance to Dream
News for January
Reuse, recycle, renew!Healthy Green Artists
by Janet Chui
It's a new year! A new calendar year is always great for the psyche. There is a feeling of potential, of leaving behind the old, and as guidemarks for the new year, you've got resolutions (unspoken or loudly declared) to be an improved/more productive person starting now, so you can't go wrong. If you can imagine it, it's lovely to be heading into a brand-spanking new year (pring pring go the sparkles) as New Improved [insert your name here].
Remaking feels just as good as making, doesn't it? To start off this year, I'd like to introduce the network (and hopefully, a growing development) for artists called Creative Reuse (or "reverse garbage" in Australia, which admittedly doesn't sound as hot). It's where industry, art, environmentalism and activism meet!
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, things have developed so that the manufacture of different items (things like clothing, appliances, furniture, even food) grows ever faster. Widgets could be made in huge quantity, and profit is made by purchasing primary materials in bulk, by mass-producing widgets, and selling them affordably to large numbers of buyers. Constant desire for new objects is encouraged by advertising. Where before so much of the human population on earth worked in agriculture, now (that affordable electricity, petrochemicals, and machines have largely freed us), manufacture and a complex system based on selling manufactured products (tangible and intangible) is the field most of us work in. We now live in a world of (apparent) plenty, and inventories pile up unless we sell, sell, sell.
The effects of this system are thousandfold on economies and on the environment in industrialized nations, but today I'm concerned with just one of them - waste. Take a textile factory making patterned fabrics for upholstery - it will update its design selection regularly, in an attempt to sell more fabric by constantly introducing new patterns. Maybe sometimes they'll keep on making their popular patterns. But they will definitely discontinue their less popular ones. Their innovations are evidenced (quite neatly I must add) in huge fabric swatch books. But misprinted fabrics or whole bolts of cloth of previous seasons may also never "move".
Creative Reuse centers around the U.S. are friends of creative folks; these places are concerned with rescuing safe, usable materials which would otherwise go into incinerators or landfills, for those people who can use them to make new products, including and especially art. Textile factories are typical among businesses and manufacturers that will have goods that do not sell, or raw materials or semi-finished materials they can no longer use. Creative reuse centers may stock donated fabrics, carpet swatches, threads, yarns, glassware, glass, plastic packaging, paper, cardstock, cardboard, rubber strips, piping, wood, beads, buttons, stickers, and all sorts of stuff from neighboring businesses, and will frequently also accept useful materials from individuals with stuff of use to artists (like empty picture frames, unused paper, pretty circuit boards, knitting and crochet needles, sewing patterns, paints, brushes, and craft magazines).
As if that's not cool enough, what makes these centers even cooler is that they're always operated by volunteers on a non-profit basis. More concerned with finding new homes and uses for their donated inventories and sometimes even becoming sources of affordable art materials for local schools, reuse centers charge extremely low prices for the materials, charging dimes or quarters per item, or a few dollars per bag or box if you can fill one. (I've always come away from a creative reuse center with stuff, and never paid more than $3 total for everything.) My own prized finds have included flower pots, lovely original paper (with instructions), index cards (which were used for an advertising/freebie campaign), cardstock (used for notes included with shipped items), wooden picture frames of different sizes, and knitting supplies.
(One of the coolest things I ever saw in the local reuse center was a barrel brimming full of wine corks. Wine corks! You know that irritating tutorial you'll see in craft books about how to make your own cork notice board from wine corks and you've wondered how one person could ever assemble that many wine corks without becoming an alcoholic? Well, you can either do that, throw lots of parties, or get thee to a creative reuse center!)
Creative reuse centers may also offer donated overstock for sale - and some of the glassware, and wire and wooden organizing containers I've seen fall under this category, so it isn't all "old" stuff.
Some of the items offered at creative reuse centers are more popular than others, and it isn't uncommon to miss an item that you saw on your last trip to the same place. Some creative reuse centers run their own websites and will send out e-mail notices on incoming donations of interesting items, so you don't miss out.
And we're not even done yet! There are centers with workshop spaces running affordable evening classes on how to create cards, bound books, scrapbooks, photo frames, or notice boards from rescued materials. Some centers may even have gallery or shop space for artists who make art from rescued materials. Some of these centers have thus made themselves a store, and a workshop center, and a show space in one.
A last caveat - Some of the stock at these centers is undoubtedly old, and if you're sensitive to dust, come prepared for exploring the less popular sections of the creative reuse center. And most centers do make efforts that everything offered is not hazardous, but even then they recognize that some materials may be less safe than others, labeling items which contain lead, or have sharp corners, or are fragile, and those which are definitey unsuited for children. Shop smart! You may need to be cautious around items that a center has not gotten to labeling.
I hope I've sold you on Creative Reuse centers - they're marvelous spaces, run by people who care about the environment, art, and their community, and they have all sorts of cool stuff, to boot. What you come away with, if you're anything like me, is a pile of stuff that will get a second life as part of a new creation, and a big smile of the good you're doing for the environment.
Oh, and how much stuff you got for so little money.
To find inspiration and a creative reuse center in your neighborhood, Google "creative reuse" and your town name, or check out these pages:
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