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Full Circle, Part 2: Materials for the Arts

This is the second entry in "Full Circle," a series that will be profiling companies and organizations that offer biodegradable and recyclable products or services -- both in the New York City area and beyond.

This work "Shrine," by Jesper Aabille and Georgia Muenster from Flux Factory, is one of six that make up, "Creative Reuse in New York City," the latest exhibition at the MFTA gallery in Long Island City. All of the works are made of reused items. Photo courtesy of the MFTA.

As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Or drama production. Or art therapy session.

Consider the 25,000-square foot warehouse that houses the Material for the Arts in Long Island City a treasure trove for thousands of those aspirations. On any given day, the venue could contain anything from 6-foot Styrofoam seahorses from a Limited Brands window display to an assortment of tables and chairs from Google’s New York offices.

“The look of it is always changing,” said MFTA representative Kevin Stirnweis of the sprawling facility that was said to once be a factory for Ford Model T cars back in the day. The organization, which was founded in 1978 and is a unit of the Department of Cultural Affairs, moved to the location in 2001 after first being housed in the Chelsea district of Manhattan.

Although the warehouse provides plenty of space for more than 1,500 donors to donate for 1.3 million pounds of items and materials valued at approximately $5 million (according to 2010’s numbers) for the benefit of non-profit organizations throughout the five boroughs, the organization is currently undergoing an expansion by adding shelving units to house more donations of items ranging from fabrics to furniture to school supplies -- and everything in between.

DSC_0070-Block Party
"Block Party," created by Carla Torress with Carolina Penafiel, uses acrylic paint on a wall and vinyl records, among other objects. It is currently on display at the MFTA gallery. Photo courtesy of the MFTA.

On the MFTA website, one will find a list of “most wanted items.” At the top of that list? Fabric. “More rolls of fabric is always helpful,” Stirnweis said. “There are people who put on productions every single day….  Paper is a big one. Teachers are always in need of it and we always have a limited supply because it goes so quickly.” Other items in great need are computers, office supplies, frame, and household items.

Although the MFTA does supply materials for a variety of performing arts groups, any non-profit organization with arts programming is eligible to be a recipient as well. Thus, MFTA’s clientele includes art therapy directors at nearby hospitals and even those who work at senior centers. Recipients must live in the five boroughs, but donors can be from anywhere. In 2010, approximately 700 of the 1,500 donors were individuals, followed by businesses (600) and nonprofit organizations (200). In certain situations, pick-ups can be done outside of the city limits.

Stirnweis stated one of MFTA’s main goals: “to keep [materials] into the art stream instead of the waste stream.” By creating its own gallery space, the organization has directly bolstered its own mission. On Dec. 1, MFTA celebrated the launch of its second exhibit, “Creative Reuse In New York City,” which features six installation works that are entirely composed of reused materials (see photos in this post for examples) by a couple of the nonprofit organizations it supports and by its own director of education, John Kaiser, who first had the idea to start a gallery.

The event, which was attended by about 50 patrons, included a panel in which the arts talked about their work and how they went about finding use for the various found objects. The exhibit will run through Feb. 29. The public can view it for free between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Have you donated materials to the MFTA? Have you been a recipient? Have you been by the exhibit? If so, we’d love to hear from you.



Artist John Cloud Kaiser, the director of educational programming for the MFTA, used found screws and string to produce his work, "String Weaving." Photo courtesy of the MFTA.



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