by Emily Kennard
the Durham VOICE
Walk into the Scrap Exchange, 548 Foster St., and you might be a little confused. Bins filled with other businesses’ waste such as test tubes, floppy disks, Burger King paper crowns and dental X-rays pack the creative reuse center. But customers leave with wigs, costumes, collages and ant traps.
“It is the ultimate experience,” said Ann Woodward, the executive director. “If you think it, you can create it.”
The Scrap Exchange takes donated waste from local businesses to reuse — how it is reused is up to the customers. Materials are organized in bins, and customers fill up bags with chosen supplies.
Then, they craft.
“It’s more about making art and not about it being great art,” said Phoebe Brush, the volunteer coordinator.
How it all started
In 1991, an employee at the Australian creative reuse center, Reverse Garbage, visited Durham and started another similar center — the Scrap Exchange.
“People need resources,” Woodward said. “It changes people’s behavior. It changes how they think creatively.”
Woodward, an artist herself, has worked at the Scrap Exchange for 10 years. Before, she worked as a waitress but wanted to pursue nonprofits and reuse. The Scrap Exchange was a perfect fit.
“I was interested in a job that fed my soul,” she said.
Open to all ages, the Scrap Exchange draws people of all backgrounds, interests and art experience.
“We don’t who you are, whether you can speak English, or even if you can speak,” Woodward said. “There’s something here for you.”
First-time customer Montia Bennett brought her grandchildren Kaitlyn Horn, 8, and Joshua Horn, 2, to the center; however, they all walked away with a craft.
“It’s great. It’s neat,” Bennett said. “It’s good for your mind if you’re creative.”
Miriamsage Starr Samuels, 6, made a wig out of yarn and a cardboard box.
“You can make lots of cool crafts,” she said.
Maria Britton, the office assistant, said watching the crafting process is often very entertaining.
“Kids make things bigger than they are,” said Britton, who is a graduate student studying painting.
The Scrap Exchange even works with special needs students, who come in once a week and help sort materials.
“This is a place where they can come and feel comfortable,” Woodward said. “It’s a really friendly environment for them to be in.”
The Scrap Exchange consists of four main areas: “Make N’ Take” is a sit-down room where people craft, “Artist’s Marketplace” showcases local art made from reused materials, and “the Mongo Room” sells larger objects on an individual basis. “Craftland” is completely filled with materials sorted by bins, which all six staff members sort and clean by hand.
”The amount of materials that we process is challenging,” Brush said. “It’s hard to see all the stuff that gets thrown away.”
Woodward, who is also the co-chair of the national organization Reuse Alliance, agrees.
“Because we are so resourceful, it’s never-ending,” she said.
A board of directors, consisting of 12 members, oversees major financial endeavors, and helps with fundraising and paperwork.
President Jenna Boitano has a law background but was drawn to work with the Scrap Exchange due to its sense of community and creative atmosphere.
“Because of the Scrap Exchange, I feel like an artist,” Boitano said.
Woodward has also been approached to brand the store in locations such as Austin, Texas, and Athens, Ga. But she isn’t sure how this will pan out.
“It’s uniquely Durham,” Woodward said about the Scrap Exchange.
And Woodward uses this uniqueness to bring customers to Durham and help promote downtown Durham’s image.
“We have been an anchor. We tell people it’s OK and safe to come to downtown Durham,” Woodward said. “We’re on the front line for development.”
They are also on the front line in Washington D.C. Woodward has been lobbying to change public policy regarding waste reduction in order to make it illegal for companies to dispose of waste that could be reused.
Although the future looks bright for the Scrap Exchange, for now, simple crafts can still empower those who walk into the store.
“Everyone needs to do something that has meaning in their life,” Woodward said. “We make that happen.”