Saving like an artist! How to get your hands on the best recycled art supplies

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There’s a planet-loving vibe to Kami Goertz’s work. From his Winnipeg studio, Goertz builds adorable versions of plants and fungi and even the occasional bacteria.

For Goertz, his “fluffy portobellos” are more than adorable fluff. They remind us that we are all characters in the greater ecosystem – all connected – and that every living thing deserves care and attention. And in keeping with this environmental theme, she favors a sustainable approach, preferring to use reclaimed materials whenever possible.

Her “soft figures” are sewn together using a mix of new and used textiles. “I want to touch the Earth as lightly as possible,” says Goertz. “You know, I don’t want to contribute to this cycle of trash.”

(LR): Artist Kami Goertz in his Winnipeg studio and one of his “fluffy portobellos.” (@kamigoertz/Instagram)

And following the green path is not only in line with its values. For Goertz, it’s convenient — and often cheaper.

But if you’re looking for recycled art supplies, where’s the best place to find them?

Arts Junktion, Winnipeg

For Goertz, the answer is Artsjunktion in Winnipeg. It’s what you would call a creative reuse center: a non-profit organization that keeps discarded art supplies out of landfills by making them available to the public for payment of what you can.

Artsjunktion, a center for creative reuse in Winnipeg, has been around since 2007. (@artsjunktion/Instagram)

The definition of “art supplies” can be liberal. Donations accepted include things you might expect (paint, crayons, canvas, beads) and things you might not expect (keys, pinecones, typewriters). “To me, as a junk food person, it’s like heaven,” laughs Goertz, and she often raids their creative reuse repository for vintage fabric.

The operation has been going on in Winnipeg since 2007 and Goertz has been going there for almost as long. About 13 years ago, when she started playing with stuffed animals, her family was young and she didn’t have a lot of money to invest in what was then a new hobby.

I felt [Artsjunktion] really, really set me up as an artist.– Kami Goertz, artist

“I found out about Artsjunktion very early on and it’s basically because of them that I was able to do some of these things,” says Goertz, who is a self-taught artist. She has since exhibited her textile sculptures in locations across Canada, the United States and Germany, and supports herself full-time through art.

“I was just sort of starting out, I didn’t really know what I was doing. If I wanted to experiment, I didn’t have to buy fabric by the yard. … I could just find these little pieces and make these fun little things,” she explains. “I felt it really, really set me up as an artist.”

Discovering a place where she could score second-hand gear — on the cheap — was a game-changer for Goertz. Not every city exactly has something like Artsjunktion, but for those looking to create a more sustainable craft stash, these are just a few more examples of the resources found throughout the land.

Center for Creative Reuse at Concordia University, Montreal

In Montreal, inside the Gray Nuns of Concordia Building, you will find the CUCCR Used Materials Depot. Everything is free and since the beginning of September, 2,143 kilograms of this free material have been claimed by visitors. That’s just over two tonnes, notes Anna Timm-Bottos, co-founder and project coordinator of the CUCCR – or roughly the same overwhelming amount of stock she keeps on hand 24/7. .

A peek inside Concordia Creative University for Creative Reuse. (Lisa Graves, Concordia University)

The center is part of the university’s broader zero waste strategy and as such, everything it carries comes directly from campus. But unlike a generic reuse center, the CUCCR encourages treasure hunters to be imaginative when perusing its shelves. It’s not the kind of place you’d freecycle on a couch for your dorm room, for example. “It’s more about materials to make something new and not necessarily as-is,” says Timm-Bottos.

Open to the public – not just students – anyone can access the CUCCR by registering for a free membership. So far they have 3,160 people signed up. Most of those members come from the Faculty of Fine Arts, but Timm-Bottos says a significant number come from the community at large. Need a canvas? Fabric scrap? Workbooks? They have you.

“Every week there are new things, but we have certain types of materials that will always be there,” she says. (Take that last item I mentioned? “I’ll never buy a binder again,” she laughs.)

Things are not missing, but the stress of having to find them yourself? It potentially limits your creative process and it’s expensive.– Anna Timm-Bottos, co-founder and project coordinator, Center for Creative Reuse at Concordia University

The project was started in 2017 and actually grew out of Timm-Bottos’ master’s research. The subject? Creative reuse centers – a subject that attracted her through her personal experience.

Before coming to Concordia, Timm-Bottos worked as an art teacher in Victoria, where she discovered how difficult it can be to keep a classroom filled with everything she needs. It’s expensive too. (For those unaware, many teachers pay for art supplies out of pocket.)

“Basically, I decided to use my master’s thesis to find a way to look at some alternatives — to find ways to make it easier for people to find materials that already exist in the world,” she says. . “There’s no shortage of things, but the stress of having to find them yourself? It potentially limits your creative process and it’s expensive.”

Victoria Supply

If only Supply Victoria had existed while Timm-Bottos was still on Vancouver Island. It’s a relatively new operation, founded by artist Ashley Howe in 2018. Since then, Supply Victoria has turned other people’s waste into free art materials for community projects, including schools. And the nonprofit opened its first drop-off point in February — “a small free thrift store for art supplies” that Howe runs at Vancouver Street Plaza in the North Park neighborhood. Open to everyone, three afternoons a week, it will be there until May 28.

Ashley Howe is the Founder and Executive Director of Supply Victoria. The nonprofit organization runs several programs, including creative reuse workshops and classes. Howe even hosts Recycled Art Nights in person and online. Visit their website for more information. (Ashley Howe)

The pop-up shop has an assortment of items, suitable for any project you can imagine with them: collage art magazines, ribbons, buttons, pencils, paints and pens. Howe collects donations from individuals and businesses in the community and accepts deposits at 751 Fairfield Road, the future home of Supply Victoria’s storefront.

Howe expects to move in by summer and is looking forward to having 2,000 square feet of space. A bigger HQ means she can keep even more useful junk out of the landfill, and to that end, she says she’s already saved 2,000 pounds of discarded stuff.

“I think everyone is creative. Everyone can make art, and I think everyone deserves access to art supplies,” Howe says. “So this is all about just breaking down those barriers so people can create things to express themselves.”

Other reuse centers with an artistic bent

Canada has no organized association of creative reuse centers, according to Timm-Bottos’ research. In Howe’s observation, they are much less common here than in the United States. Howe worked for several in Portland, Oregon before moving to Victoria, and she wants to one day develop a pan-Canadian network of supply outposts.

“I feel like every community could benefit from it,” she says. “There are tons of materials going unnecessarily to landfill in every city.”

There are still a few, though. For those looking for textiles, the Vancouver home for Fab cyclea reuse center that is entirely dedicated to recycling industrial waste and unused fabrics. Regina Art Supply Exchange is a creative reuse center with a storefront open to the public on Saturdays.

Anyone can make art, and everyone, I think, deserves access to art supplies.– Ashley Howe, Founder and Executive Director, Supply Victoria

But of course, creativity isn’t exclusive to reusing centers with that particular word in their title. While Howe was studying art at Emily Carr University in Vancouver—and struggling to afford art supplies— Urban spring on Main Street was one of his favorite destinations. The “alternative art supply store” keeps plenty of curiosities in stock. They harvest much of their wares from manufacturing and sell their finds in bins at the Bulk Barn.)

In Edmonton, the city’s waste management program manages the Reuse Center on 83rd Street near Argyll Road. Just read this list of everything they collect and you’ll already be considering a new crafting idea. (As of this year, everything in-store is free.)

And for even more “free” stores across the country, CBC’s What on Earth? compiled this article about freecycling programs in Canada.

Trash Treasure Garden is an art installation created by Ashley Howe of Supply Victoria with local volunteers. Made of 300 recycled plastic bottles, it was installed in Victoria’s Commercial Alley last October. (Ashley Howe)

Or save online or IRL

Your local thrift store is another classic option, and some, like the one in Toronto Dual socketeven run their own reuse centers.

Or there are always garage sales and estate sales and their online equivalents: ads on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji.

“A lot of my stash is still stuff I’ve accumulated over the years,” says Goertz, who describes herself as a “thrift store junkie.”

“You never know what you’re going to find,” she says. And you never know what those discoveries might inspire.

Putting the fun in the mushrooms. An assortment of Kami Goertz soft figures. (@kamigoertz/Instagram)

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