I found Neverland in Humboldt Park! Well okay it’s called The WasteShed and their merchandise isn’t technically a bunch of lost things. Still, I did get lost for an hour in the many rows, shelves, and bins of donated art materials that greeted me when I entered the store.
The WasteShed is a young creative reuse center nestled between Chicago Avenue and Augusta Boulevard. I visited with the aim to figure out exactly what a creative reuse center is all about and what they are up to right now, but also found a new hobby.
I met with Eleanor Ray, the director of The WasteShed. We started with a quick tour of the shop’s many odd goods and as we sat down to discuss reuse and sustainability other customers came in and out discovering new adventures.
KS: So first off how does it work? For the regular person walking in off the street, what is The WasteShed?
ER: The WasteShed is basically a thrift store for art supplies. We accept anything that falls under the general heading of materials, like art supplies, office supplies, school supplies, fabric, crafts, old signage, framing stuff or other industrial odds and ends etc. These are all things that were headed for the landfill and didn’t have any other way to get back into the community. We make them available to the general public for cheap!
KS: Then do many people come in as I did, looking for one specific thing, or nothing in particular, and end up venturing into a whole new hobby?
ER: Yea! So the idea is to reduce the barriers to creative access. We make it really easy for anyone to walk in and pick something up, go home and play with it and then if it doesn’t work out they can re-donate it. We are basically here to be a sort of communal supply closet. That way people don’t feel like they need to hold onto things just because they don’t want to waste them.
Other times people come in and ask, “I have this project I’ve been working on. Do you have anything for me?” I end up being sort of a materials librarian. I consult with them and help them find this or that odd material that will bring their creative ideas to life.
KS: So you get a lot of donations then? I saw on your Facebook page that you have so much right now you’ve had to put a pause on accepting donations.
ER: Yea we got in 400 pounds of materials on Saturday and only one person came in to buy things. It can be kind of tricky like that sometimes. But another way to get involved here at The WasteShed would be to come in and volunteer. We always need people to help sort and unpack.
KS: When you get big shipments in like that, do you schedule events or classes?
ER: We will probably have sales starting soon. We also have started getting community partners around the city like CAKE (Chicago’s Alternative Comic Expo) and we try to hook them up with materials because well they are great. We really love to work with great projects like that or just other creative people who need stuff because we have a lot of stuff!
We also have a mending class that happens twice a month called Radical Mending on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. Basically you can just bring in any clothing that needs to be fixed and I will help you figure out how to fix it. So it’s partly an intro to intermediate sewing class. It’s very problem-solving oriented, and the only cost is a $5 suggested donation. Plus it’s BYOB! We have a pretty regular crowd for that class.
KS: So here is the big question. How do you think art in general and also The WasteShed contribute to the discussion on sustainability and reuse?
ER: Well first, I don’t necessarily think that reuse has to be creative. I think people who are not necessarily creative can come up with plenty of ways to reuse things in their lives. But I think creative reuse can be an interesting overlap, because a lot of it is about the materials and their properties.
Creative reuse has a lot of obvious applications to art, but a lot of nuanced ways as well. It’s sort of a gateway drug to trying to reuse everything, which is a really fun and rewarding practice. Try hacking everything together instead of going to the store to by things. For example, I made this iPad stand that functions as our cash register out of two things I found in the trash and brought back to life. I mean I could have gone to the store or paid $65 dollars for something on the Internet, but this spoke to me instead. It becomes a game.
I think The WasteShed is a way to introduce people to the idea that you don’t have to contribute to the waste-stream. There is so much stuff around us all the time. There is this tremendous abundance of stuff, and if you can just be smart about it, the world is your oyster. I think that is a pretty important message.
It’s a throw back to the older way of thinking. Several years ago all we threw away was ash. All the metal was melted down, and all the plastic, glass, fabric, and even bones were reused! Throwing stuff away is a very new and unnecessary idea. Any interventions in that system are extremely important and so is increasing awareness of this throw-away-culture.
Eleanor dreams of a day when there is a creative reuse center in all areas of Chicago. Currently, The WasteShed is the only reuse center in Chicago and in fact, as the map currently hanging in The WasteShed shows, it is the only reuse center in Illinois.
Walking home from The WasteShed with what felt like a whole new set of eyes and a whole barely-used set of watercolor paints (complete with brushes, paper and a frame for just $6.25, no that is not a typo), I spotted a large pile of old wood ready be shipped to a landfill somewhere. I picked up a piece that I could feasibly carry onto the Pink Line and began my new creative adventure.
As Earth Day approaches, visit The WasteShed to embark on your own reuse adventure and like them on Facebook and Twitter (@WasteShed) to keep up on what new materials they have and how you can get involved with this amazing resource.
Kinzie Schweigert is the Editorial Intern at Chicago Artists Resource and is graduating from Illinois Wesleyan University in May 2015 with a major in English-writing and a minor in business administration.