Katie Patterson Larson sees potential where others might see trash.
Case in point: On a recent tour of Art Salvage, the nonprofit she founded, she contemplated the colorful wires attached to a basement post, left behind from a former tenant’s phone system.
“It’s so pretty,” she said, wondering if they could cut them out and sell them.
If she does, old telephone wires wouldn’t be the most unusual thing for sale at Art Salvage, a creative reuse center in Spokane. The shop sells donated art supplies like paint, paper, crayons, fabric and yarn – some new, others gently used.
But there’s stuff you wouldn’t find at a typical craft store, too, like fair ribbons, the doors from vintage apartment mailboxes, piano keys and music rolls from player pianos. It’s a dual effort to keep usable materials out of landfills and make art supplies accessible to everyone.
“Almost anything is fair game for what can be used in creating art,” Patterson Larson said. The trick is balancing whether the shop has space for it and whether people are going to want it. Another challenge is how to price the items.
“Kids really like a little of this, a little of that, they take one of everything,” she said. But sometimes artists come in, “They have a project in mind, and they want a lot of one thing, so how do we make sure that they can also have access to that in a way that’s affordable.”
The shop opened in April 2018 in the West Central neighborhood, but the nonprofit has been around longer. Patterson Larson started it in 2014 using her own basement (plus her parents’ garage and storage areas at board members’ homes) to store donations. Before the shop opened, she would sell art supplies and kits at places like farmers markets and Terrain’s Pop-Up Shop.
“The word is still getting out,” said Amy Mickelson, vice president of the board. “What we always hear from people is that they just love this concept.”
The organization is working to expand programming and outreach, Patterson Larson said. That includes the new Family Drop-in Workshops. There are two this month, Litter Bugs on Saturday and Fabulous Masks on Oct. 26. Supplies and samples will be set up on a table in the shop, and there will be volunteers to help.
“The idea is that parents are going to come in and make it with their kids,” Patterson Larson said.
Creative reuse organizations can be found all over the world, from Portland to West Perth, Australia. “We’re just sort of reinventing the wheel,” Mickelson said.
“But there’s still people who come in and they’re just so excited,” Patterson Larson said.
Part of the excitement stems from so many kinds of materials in one spot. Puzzle pieces, cardboard tubes and silk fabric? Check, check and check. Yet, “Things are still very well curated and organized,” Mickelson said.
Another part of the excitement? It’s affordable. In fact, the shop’s average sale is $11, Patterson Larson said.
Recently, a father brought in two kids, she said. One child had a project planned out, and the dad wanted to pick up supplies for a party. They all walked out with something. “It was under $20, and it was three people shopping for specific plans, plus throwing in, oh, another handful of gems,” she said.
To help at checkout in the volunteer-run store, shoppers carry clipboards with them and mark down what they’re buying and the price. Patterson Larson said it’s fun to watch as children budget their money while shopping.
“A kid with a dollar, a kid with $5, you actually do get a bag of stuff,” she said. “And then they still get to take it home and be creative and make stuff with it. Plus, adults get excited in that same way.”
In the meantime, the group is achieving its goals. In 2018, Art Salvage accepted more than 10,000 pounds of usable arts and crafts materials, and it is on track to surpass that in 2019. As of September, it had collected 9,800 pounds.
Sometimes donations come in half a bag at a time, other times it’s several boxes at once. And Art Salvage doesn’t accept everything.
“We try to take in only what we know we can use,” Patterson Larson said because the group doesn’t want to have to pay to throw stuff away. There’s a list of acceptable items at artsalvagespokane.com, or donors can call or email with questions.
“That’s the exciting part, too, to see what people bring,” Patterson Larson said. And, she added, to see where it’s going to go. In 2018, the shop sold nearly $35,000 in materials; so far this year the shop’s done more than $43,000 in sales.
Art Salvage has earned recognition for its work. Before the shop opened, the organization received a Spokane Arts Grant Award. And this year, it won the Recycler of the Year Award for Innovation from the Washington State Recycling Association.
Another mark of the group’s success: Next month Art Salvage will have its first paid employee. Patterson Larson will earn a salary for her work as executive director. Another change is that some of the founding board members, including Mickelson, are nearing the end of their terms, so Art Salvage will be getting new leadership.
Patterson Larson sees the group’s growth as evidence that Spokane is receptive to the idea of creative reuse, and she is excited to continue to promote the overall idea of sustainability.
As the group continues to educate the community, she hopes, “Instead of throwing something in the trash or recycling, maybe their first idea will be, ‘How can I reuse this?’ ”
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