Anyone with a background in community service can attest that simple ideas are often the most powerful. It is the rare organization that can resist the allure of overdevelopment and stick to basic principles. Arts & Scraps, a nonprofit based out of Detroit, was founded in 1989 on the simple concept that industrial waste materials (not to be confused with toxic industrial waste) can look a lot like art materials if you use a little imagination. Thus was born Arts & Scraps, which utilizes its Harper Avenue warehouse and storefront, as well as their mobile “Scrapmobile” unit, to recycle and redistribute 28 metric tons of discarded materials. Combined with donations, these are turned into art kits that serve over 275,000 kids in the Detroit Metro area annually.
For a simple idea, Arts & Scraps operates on many levels. Not only are they reducing waste and providing art materials to individuals and organizations that could otherwise not afford them, but they also support creativity in youth while promoting an educational agenda. As warehouse supervisor Matthew Reaume explained to the line-up of volunteers assembled at the warehouse this Saturday, the “fish kits” we were creating — enough assorted foam pieces, colorful sand, wooden shapes, paper shreds, crayons and plastic beads for a class of 40 to make a school of fish — were not simply an art exercise; they supported a lesson plan about how creatures adapt to their environment, making an artistic illustration of a serious biological concept. We followed that with several hours of assembling mask/puppet kits — one of Arts & Scraps’s most popular items — which utilized die-cut manila folders, discarded cardboard spools for industrial sewing machines and foam ‘o’ shapes that were the discard from gaskets on the Ford F-150, among other items.
The takeaway from Arts & Scraps seems clear: there are no rules and no waste when it comes to art, and almost anything is of use when you put it in the right hands. Even the warehouse itself, as well as the storefront, which raises about 40 percent of the organization’s revenue (the rest coming from grants and charitable donations), is repurposing a section of Harper Avenue that might be considered a discarded product. The wrought-iron fence enclosing the parking lot is decorated with friendly and inventive figures made from recycled materials, and all around the warehouse — a sort of Willy Wonka Factory for arts-and-crafts enthusiasts, full to the brim with bolts of fabric and boxes with intriguing labels — were examples of simple industrial discard transformed into castles, submarines and colorful signage. On every front, Arts & Scraps is a constant reminder that when it comes to self-expression, the most important ingredient is simply imagination.
Find out more about Arts & Scraps, make a donation, visit the store or VOLUNTEER: artsandscraps.org
All photos courtesy of Sarah Sharp.