Scrap Story #4: Promoting Creativity Through Reuse

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Scrap Exchange Retail Floor

A World of Possibilities (Foster Street edition)

In spring 2004, Ann and I are driving to Asheville to work at an event, we start talking about funding, why The Scrap Exchange should be able to get outside funding, what the value of the organization is. I’m talking about how I remember reading in that very first article I saw in spring 2000, how the director said that getting funding was difficult, she said that funders who supported arts organizations saw it as an environmental organization and funders who supported environmental organization saw it as an arts organization. It didn’t fit neatly anywhere, it was a tough sell, it fell between the cracks.

Ann said she thought that meant the opposite, that you should get funding from everyone. It was doing all these important things at once, everyone should support it.

I said I thought the real value was in the creativity angle. That’s a huge thing these days, businesses are all about creativity, schools want to teach creative thinking and creative problem-solving. There’s this whole thing about the creative class, Richard Florida and all that.

I said that this is what The Scrap Exchange does, it helps you be more creative — being involved with The Scrap Exchange helps you think about things in a different way.

Here’s how I explained it.

I said we live in such a consumer-oriented society that the solution to everything is to buy something. You need something and you think, “What kind of store sells that?”; you have a problem and you think, “What product do I need to get to fix this?”

That’s how we’ve been raised, it’s how we’ve been trained.

The Scrap Exchange is filled with all kinds of things that started out life as something specific but that now can be anything. Some things you can tell what they were — cones and tubes that held thread at a textile mill, plastic trays that held pipettes in a lab — but some things you have no idea.

The first inclination most people have when they come in the store is to say, “What is this?” (Well actually the first inclination is more like, “Holy cow, this is some crazy shit in here, what the heck is this place?”) But before long, your mindset shifts from asking, “What is this?” to asking, “What can I do with this?”

This may seem like not much of a difference, but it’s actually a huge breakthrough.

You are no longer tied to seeking a specific object to solve your problems, something that someone else made just for that purpose. You can now use anything, made for any purpose, to do what you need it to. You are not looking for items, you are in search of qualities — I need something tall and heavy (empty fire extinguisher base?), I need something small to hold loose things (plastic petri dish? CD case?), I need a palm tree.

A palm tree?

In summer 2004, there was a Hawaiian-themed engagement party planned for my friend Beth Graves. Our friend Zoe was helping organize things. She said we need decorations, they want palm trees. I said we don’t need to buy those, we can make those from Scrap Exchange stuff.

This was early days in my Scrap Exchange life. Zoe looked at me like I was nuts. She says we’re going to make palm trees? I say well maybe, we can go look at least. If we can’t come up with anything we can buy them.

We go to Scrap Exchange, we get stuff, we take it to her house, we’re making palm trees. Her boyfriend (now husband) is like what are you doing? We say we’re making palm trees. He rolls his eyes.

Then we run into engineering difficulties, the palm fronds are popping up, we can’t get them to hang down right. Jim is watching us try different things, all to no avail. He goes out to the garage, grabs some 8d nails, comes in and pokes them through the foam to weigh it down. Too heavy, how about 6d. Too low, move them up. A few adjustment later it’s perfect.

Who’s rolling their eyes now? No one can resist the allure of Scrap engineering.

We take the trees to the party, Beth and Zoe’s friend Megan looks at them and says, “Okay, those look way better than I expected.” I was like what did you think they were going to look like? She said, “I had no earthly idea, I could not even imagine it.”

Who needs to buy a palm tree when you can make one from a cardboard mailing tube, leftover green foam strips, and green parachute fabric?

It’s all about creativity.

The Scrap Exchange is filled with things that have been liberated from their past lives, from what they were made for. They are now free to be anything.

Maybe even a palm tree.

Shopping at The Scrap Exchange also allows you to imagine new uses for things you already have. You see all these things in the store that would have been thrown away and you start thinking about things you yourself throw away, that you could use again instead. Or you think about things you have around the house that you got for one thing but could use for something else.

Like using nails to weigh down the fronds of your palm tree.

Promoting creativity through reuse. It’s what we’re all about.

=====

Help! The Scrap Exchange Needs YOU!

Visit the Scrap Exchange website for full details on our fundraiser, or to make a tax-deductible, online donation through PayPal or Network for Good.

Rather go old school? Checks can be made payable to The Scrap Exchange and mailed to 923 Franklin St, Bay 1, Durham, NC 27701.

3 Responses to “Scrap Story #4: Promoting Creativity Through Reuse”

  1. Pat Hoffman Says:

    Well, since I was the director who was quoted in 2000, I must point out that we actually were supported for years by the environmental people AND the arts people. Otherwise, the Scrap Ex wouldn’t have grown as much as it had in the 8 1/2 years that I was director.

    What I was referring to was the great competition for funds from the proliferating nonprofits in N.C. Agencies that had accepted us as environmentalists were using the arts issue to exclude us and give others a chance. And arts funders claimed we were an environmental organization so they could divert some funds to other arts groups. We were entrepreneurial and funders thought we didn’t need the money as much as others. It helps for the community to understand that deserving nonprofits can’t always get the grants they need. That’s why we ask for donations.

    The Scrap Ex was, in fact, very popular in the community and with our funders. And we did get repeat funding. Of course, our focus then- as it is now at the Scrap Exchange- was on earning income through retail and outreach work and hoping for the additional money you need through grants and donations. What frustrated me was that we couldn’t convince the City to put us in their budget, despite all the services The Scrap Exchange provides to schools, after school programs, the Arts Council, and other community groups. One newspaper report suggested that I thought we didn’t have enough support from the community, which wasn’t true. The Scrap Exchange was beloved by Durham, before I was director, during and since. It’s a treasure that Ann, her board and staff have nourished with their creativity, innovation and hard work. They deserve support from everywhere, as Ann suggests.

  2. lessisenough Says:

    Hi Pat, thanks for the comment. You need to come visit the new location — when I heard someone refer to the Foster Street space as “the small store,” I knew we were in a different world.

  3. Pat Hoffman Says:

    Yes! I heard the new space is huge. And I know it took tremendous work and community support to get there. When I come back to Durham, it will be my first stop!


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