I recently got to visit a really cool place in Long Island City, Queens called Materials for the Arts. Materials for the Arts (MFTA) collects discarded items from businesses and individuals that can be repurposed for art projects. They have a huge 35,000 square foot warehouse where these items are available for free to nonprofit organizations with arts programming, government agencies, and public schools. In addition to providing all these wonderful art supplies at no cost, they do a lot of great work to promote the arts in schools with outreach and education programs. Throughout the year they host several artists in residence who exhibit their work at the onsite gallery. They also have several classrooms where they lead workshops for educators, and classes on working with unconventional materials for art projects. I met with Education Associate Omar Olivera for a tour of the space. Keep reading to learn more about Materials for the Arts, and see lots of pics of their gigantic warehouse filled with fun art supplies:
The Materials for the Arts is part of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and was founded in 1978 by artist Angela Fremont. What started as a simple listings board has grown extensively over the past few decades. Located in a 10,000 square foot in Chelsea in the 90's, MFTA moved to their current location in 2000. They have a staff of 17 people as well as an outreach network consisting of teachers who offer onsite art classes at schools throughout the city.
The warehouse is open for members to shop on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. They are also open the first Monday of every month from 3:30pm-6:00pm. Anyone who works with schools, government agencies, or nonprofits with arts programming is eligible to become a member and take as much as they need from the warehouse. They say "gratitude is their only currency", and all the art supplies are available free of charge to members. The only requirement is that they send a thank you note to the donors. MFTA keeps track of all the donations so that donors are notified when their items have been given new life. That way donors know their items will be put to use encouraging children to express themselves through artwork. Plus, it's a great way to divert resources out of the waste stream. MFTA gets a lot of donations from the fashion industry, film and TV, and other arts. They most recently got a big donation of electronic equipment from SONY.
Executive Director Harriet Taub joined MFTA in 1998. Like many people in our modern society, she felt frustrated when she saw so many useful resources being thrown away when they could still be put to good use. Things that have been abandoned by consumers can be given new life through creative activity. Harriet strives to build community and strengthen neighborhoods by encouraging students and teachers to express their creativity and individuality.
With so many donations received and a huge warehouse to maintain, Materials for the Arts relies on volunteers to help them stay organized. Nakeshia Betsill is the Volunteer Coordinator and manages the volunteers who come in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Volunteers help to unpack, sort and organize the donations which include everything from fabric, trim, buttons, and office supplies.
They have 2 classrooms with room for up to 30 kids, and offer professional development courses for teachers and other educators 3 times a year . A lot of teachers don't have experience working with unconventional art materials, so an education in creative reuse helps them see all the possibilities and come up with creative ways to incorporate these materials into art projects.
Every 4-5 months MFTA hosts a new artist in residence, and current artist Jean Shin was preparing to show her most recent work at the onsite gallery space. Jean is known for her work using everyday, found objects and transforming them into larger artistic statements. Her work has been featured at major museums around the world including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC. For her current project, she worked with discarded leather hides from the fashion industry. Piecing together the remnants of the hide, the empty cutouts give mysterious clues as to what they were used for. By viewing the industry scraps in a way that recalls the original animal's hide, the viewer gets more insight into the nature of where these goods come from. Her work is currently on display at the MFTA gallery.
Be sure to check out the Materials for the Arts website to learn more about this awesome organization. You can sign up to become a member to shop for free art supplies, or learn about ways you can visit, volunteer, or donate. It's a wonderful way to get involved with a group that provides cultural resources, connections, careers, and life-long learning for New York City's budding artists!