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Repurposed Art at The Scrap Exchange Carries an Environmental Message

By S. Mathur

Is The Scrap Exchange an arts and crafts supply store? A DIY paradise? A thrift store and flea market with amazing bargains? An artsy recycling center? A place to find and be inspired by cutting edge environmental art? The answer is, all of these and more. Founded in 1991 by artists and teachers frustrated with the difficulties in finding affordable and interesting materials to use for art projects, it has become the basis for a unique and exemplary partnership.

Realizing that local businesses were throwing away literally tons of materials that could be reused and repurposed, founders Chris Rosenthal, Bryan Holsenbeck and Joe Appleton began collecting it for use in local art projects and for other creative purposes. Officially designated a Creative Reuse Center, The Scrap Exchange is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission "to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse." A great example of this is Tomas Saracen's solar powered hot air balloon, all constructed out of plastic trash bags (below)!

Rebecca Currie, Deputy Director believes that "It is our responsibility as a society to find a more sustainable way of living because the earth's resources are finite, and the human population continues to expand. Without changes in how we live, future generations will experience a greatly diminished existence. The Scrap Exchange promotes sustainability by extending the life of existing materials by allowing people to repurpose existing items for new uses, and thus reducing the amount of resources required to create new products."

Materials that would have been headed for the landfill thus acquire a new lease on life. The Scrap Exchange collects materials like foam, paper, fabric, zippers, buttons, test tubes, and more from industries, businesses and municipal institutions. Individual donations are also accepted. Materials like crafting and art supplies, vintage goodies are specially welcome. Donations are tax exempt. They are sold at low cost at the retail store and used in events like crafts workshops in schools, at the center. The Events by the Truckload program brings workshops to special events and festivals.

Over the years The Scrap Exchange has expanded from its location in a small donated storefront space to its own 23,000 square foot building in the Lakewood Shopping Center in Durham, NC.

The building also houses the popular retail store and art gallery. According to Currie, "The retail store is increasing popular; sales have increased 15% to 20% a year in each of the past 4 years. The art gallery features the work of local artists using reclaimed or repurposed materials in their work and adds a unique element to the store, expanding the consciousness of visitors by showing what kinds of things can be done with reclaimed materials."

Combining the thrills of thrifting with the joys and pains of creativity, art at and inspired by The Scrap Exchange carries an important message. Reusing and repurposing materials already in existence offers an exciting challenge to human intelligence and creativity. And bringing together businesses, local governments, educators, and artists may well be the a basis of a new form of community.

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