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Making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Cardboard cores into pop-up puppets, wallpaper samples into masks, miscellaneous household discards into a giant skeleton - these and other classroom art projects have been created by children from discarded yarn cores, imperfectly molded plastic products or leftover scraps warehoused in various communities, there to be explored. Artist Mike Bidlo of New York, founder of New York City's Materials for the Arts, has reintroduced me to an ethic of using recycled materials in a time when flagrant waste seems to be everywhere. They say you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear - I wouldn't want to bet on it!

For centuries, discovering uses for the useless has intrigued educators, artists and those on tight budgets. Reduced school funding has forced resourceful people, especially teachers, to look in unlikely places for inexpensive materials. some become collectors of household discards and the refuse at back doors of stores. But by establishing collection, warehousing and distribution systems, tons of commercial and industrial discards which are dumped every day, can become a continuous stream of inspiration for teachers and students. Among other benefits, they offer an important opportunity to "rethink trash" by demonstrating new behaviors and methods for using wasted resources. Reuse has been defined as "the return of a material or product to the economy by finding different purposes for the commodity."

In a number of cities, programs have been developed to provide systematic collection and distribution of these excess and surplus materials. As Louise Nason Phillips, a founder of reuse programs on the West Coast, states, "Landfill is no place to put usable supplies needed for arts, education and social service programs, yet a vast amount of clean, new or reusable materials and equipment goes to our shrinking landfill space daily. As inflation continues to shrink school budgets, these materials become increasingly hard to obtain."

Programs have been established in some communities to retrieve and redistribute a wide variety of reusable discards. The materials collected are rejected products that don't meet factory quality-control standards - imperfect medical equipment parts, unfinished garments, cardboard from a box manufacturer or overrun stock a distributor cannot sell. Discarded office furniture and equipment, and outdated business forms are also collected and distributed. They accept business inventory, depreciated equipment from businesses or labs, supplies from department stores, automotive and contractor excess paint batches, printshop trimmings, billboard paper, milling errors, decorator fabric ends, swatch books, etc.

Although the existing programs vary in form, they all share three elements: wide community support, pick-up and hauling capability, and free or low-cost warehouse and distribution space. In addition, they all were established with similar goals: * to collect excess materials from business and industry; * to provide access to these materials to the community; * to provide publicity and education on resource reuse; * to generate funds to support program services.

If no program exists in your town or district, consider starting one. Here's how others do it.


Efficient hauling service is a major incentive for business donors to participate in all reuse systems. To begin its hauling service, Creative Reuse in San Francisco approached truck rental franchises to solicit use of unrented trucks. A local truck rental operator agreed to donate use of a truck as a community service.

Office furniture was solicited from used furniture dealers. A typewriter, an answering machine and warehouse equipment were purchased at cost. Storage containers for different materials were made from barrels and wooden crates from a bucket manufacturer and a natural food store. Later, a class at a local arts college designed new storage systems as a class project. The objective was to create the storage system from available reusable materials that would be suitable for storing materials of varying size, shape or weight. Students designed a warehouse floor plan, the storage systems and a graphic labeling system.

One storage system consists of a unit of eight cardboard barrels, fastened within a simple scrap lumber frame about ten feet in length. The barrels are tacked on their sides, two barrels high, and off the warehouse floor. Rectangular openings were cut into one side of each barrel, so that materials could be easily removed and containers could be refilled.

Public Awareness

Informing potential donors and users about the service is essential in the start of all the reuse programs. Creative Reuse developed a press release for daily and weekly papers which asked, "Need free materials?" A public service announcement was broadcast by local radio stations. Flyers were mailed to community organizations, including school district offices and youth agencies. Major stories appeared in all the local newspapers over the first year. A feature on the program was filmed by a local TV station for the six o'clock news. Responses came from businesses interested in donating materials throughout the community.

New York City's Materials for the Arts got a major boost when public advertising space was made available. Its first major advertisement, designed in-house, appeared in Newsweek, then in the New York Times, and The Village Voice. Articles in other magazines and newspapers followed. As a follow-up, the Department of Cultural Affairs printed a brochure distributed to 3,000 businesses. The brochure caught readers' attention with the phrase, "This is not a request for money. This is a request for something you don't need." Within one year, donations of discards to the New York program increased 67%, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Creative Reuse utilizes another technique for publicizing its services. A slide show which depicts the system and ways in which materials are used in the community was presented before business and industry associations, education seminars and in-service training programs for teachers and recreation leaders.

ACCES Re-Use It! Center in Tampa organized traveling workshops in which materials for up to twelve activities are packed into a van and transported to various locations. As many as five hundred children at a time have participated in workshops. In addition to workshops Market sells "Junque Mail" in various-sized kits at different prices mailed throughout Canada and beyond.

Financing Sources

Presently, all of the programs are partially or wholly self-sustaining. Materials for the Arts is the only system which is not. The goods and materials can therefore be distributed to artists and community groups in the New York City area free of charge, as the service is mostly supported by city funds.

Early in its development, efforts were initiated by Creative Reuse to become self-supporting. A market survey, developed with the help of a university M.B.A. candidate evaluated alternative fee systems. Three criteria were considered in the evaluation: ease of implementation, acceptability to the user and practicality. A questionnaire was mailed to a broad cross section of recipients. Statistics were obtained on user preferences, attitudes and usage patterns. As a result of this evaluation, a $2.00 fee per bag was instituted as it proved most acceptable to users. The Boston, Los Angeles and Tampa programs also charge by the bag.

Education in the Reuse Ethic

Many community program staff members and teachers request information about how to make use of the available supplies. Most programs sponsor workshops, mount exhibits and print idea sheets as a way of teaching and demonstrating project ideas. Classes on paper and printmaking, gifts for kids to make from scrap, and classroom science with discards are among many workshops.

The Los Angeles Children's Museum Recycle Market distributes Recycle Recipes, idea sheets demonstrating unique methods for reusing available resources. Recipes include ideas for rubber stamps created from foam rubber circles, scrap wood handles and cardboard pieces. The Boston Children's Museum published Recyclopedia, a paperback describing games, science equipment and craft ideas from reused materials.

How to Begin

Any community with some local industry has a potential wealth of reusable resources. Phase one services can begin at a switchboard with some truck delivery; phase two can begin when warehouse space such as a closed school cafeteria, an empty firehouse, an empty market or an urban renewal building are available.

To establish the collection and distribution system for reuse, Recyclopedia advises representatives to approach various local sources and ask for a donation of materials. Below are a few helpful suggestions: * Local factories discard myriad useful materials depending on what they manufacture. * Corporate offices might contribute paper products, computer cards, wood scrap, etc. * Hospital discard many materials from labware to syringe cases and sterile containers. * Stores discard merchandise, seasonal decorations, racks and shelving. Home furnishers are sources of carpet samples and wallpaper books. Rug stores discard end rolls, cardboard tubes and bamboo poles. * Go in person rather than phoning. Be reliable in meeting pick-up schedules. Provide a container for discards. Give a receipt for donated materials. * Be prepared to take more material than you can use. Manufacturers dump large amounts at a time and may not wish to be bothered setting aside a small quantity. * Don't hoard! There are always more reusable resources.
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Title Annotation:includes list of recycled art materials programs in major cities; using recycled materials for art projects
Author:Cogan, Sheila
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Previous Article:Save our planet: recycle!
Next Article:A digital sleight of hand.

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