The Scrap Exchange plans a reuse arts district

One of the rooms full of craft materials at The Scrap Exchange. (Staff photo by Elise Clouser)

In one room of the massive warehouse that houses The Scrap Exchange in Durham, blue barrels brim over with paint swatches in every color and buttons of every shape. In another section, shaky shelves are piled high with fabric bundles and scrapbook paper. The walls of a snaking hallway display the art of professionals and amateurs alike.

Welcome to a creator’s paradise.

The outside of the building that houses The Scrap Exchange’s retail space. (Staff photo by Elise Clouser)

The outside of the building that houses The Scrap Exchange’s retail space. (Staff photo by Elise Clouser)

The Scrap Exchange is a nonprofit organization that aims to promote creativity and sustainability. Its retail store, located at 2050 Chapel Hill Rd. near the Lakewood Shopping Center in Durham, is a 23,000-square-foot space that sells anything from used craft materials to antique home decor. It’s also a place for artists, children and anyone else with a creative streak to produce and display artwork.

“It’s a place that is a reservoir of creation and imagination,” said The Scrap Exchange’s executive director Ann Woodward. “You can come in here and just start feeling more creative.”

Entering its 26th year, Woodward said The Scrap Exchange has experienced significant growth recently, and she plans to continue expanding. In August 2016, Woodward and The Scrap Exchange board purchased the northern portion of the Lakewood Shopping Center. Their plan is to create a reuse arts district out of the space.

“It will be an entire community based around reuse,” Woodward said. “It will be completely self-sustainable as well as an artist’s haven.”

The new arts district will include the 80,000-square-foot building that the mostly vacant Lakewood Shopping Center currently occupies. The purchase in August also included ten acres of land surrounding the building, which Woodward hopes to turn into a multi-use area.

Woodward plans to include artist studios, permanent galleries, a thrift store and affordable housing in the arts district. The new space will also continue to be a creative reuse arts center with community programming and discount supplies.

The project will take up to ten years and $10 million to fully complete. Woodward said that the first step was to purchase the building and land. The Scrap Exchange is currently raising funds for the project and working with local developers.

Community involvement is a large part of The Scrap Exchange’s mission, Woodward said. Durham has an active coalition of local artists, and she saw potential for developing a culture of reuse in the area.

“Being a nonprofit helps us reach people where they are,” Woodward said. “It was important for us to impact the community. It was an opportunity for economic development around arts and recreation activities in Durham.”

By encouraging reuse, Woodward said that The Scrap Exchange is a sustainable organization. Many materials sold by The Scrap Exchange are sourced from local businesses and industries. Those materials that would otherwise have ended up in landfills are instead given a new purpose.

“We are in a country where people have been trained to shop,” Woodward said. “But once you know how to make things, you’re not consuming things. And where’s the meaning behind consuming things? Where’s the community, the collaboration, the creativity?”

To help promote that sustainability, The Scrap Exchange encourages participation from members of the community. Though they employ some full-time staff, The Scrap Exchange relies on volunteers for many of its operations. Volunteers assist in sorting through donations, leading programs and organizing stock.

Anna Moore, a resident of Durham, volunteers at The Scrap Exchange on weekends. She is a student interested in art and sustainability, and she saw The Scrap Exchange as an opportunity to promote those things in the community.

“As soon as I started here, it felt like I was part of a little community,” Moore said. “I’ve met some of the most interesting people here.”

Moore is excited to see how The Scrap Exchange will continue to grow in the next few years. She said that the planned reuse arts district will likely have a positive impact in the area.

“It’s going to be cool to see this reach even more people,” she said. “It’s such a unique thing, and it’s exciting that it’s right here in Durham.”

Visit for more information about The Scrap Exchange, including store hours, programming and how to get involved.

For a printer-friendly version of this story, click here.

Edited by Danny Nett