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Seattle Recreative Turns Trash into Treasure

By Wendy K. Leigh 

The term “creative green sensibility” may be missing in the mainstream vernacular of some cities – but certainly not in Seattle. As far as the eco-crafting folks at nonprofit Seattle Recreative are concerned, every scrap, scribble, string, and square of discarded paper, fabric, and metal is part of the creativity puzzle to which everyone in society can contribute. They also believe that environmental awareness and “creative reuse” can’t start early enough, which is why they tailor a large portion of the center’s upcycling, eco-art classes and creative play sessions to Seattle youngsters.

Seattle Recreative Building on Greenwood Avenue

Seattle Recreative Building on Greenwood Avenue

Partners and educators Jenna Boitano and Emily Korson, cofounders of Seattle Recreative, began with a simple idea that green living can be creative, and that old-school skills such as fine art, sewing and woodworking are compatible with the conviction to recycle and reuse materials that would otherwise end up in landfills. Many believe that low-tech art in a high-tech metropolis can bring a balance that benefits the environment and society as a whole.

Budding and established artists at Seattle Recreative are discovering that art is only enhanced by the “found” materials that change based on the day’s donations. People of all ages show up for art classes, jumping into a treasure pile of buttons, bobbles, yarn, wood, vintage postcards, old puppets, bottle caps, corks, wood scraps and textiles ­– you name it, and it eventually shows up at the street-front center in Greenwood. All items are donated, and participants purchase them at a very low cost through the onsite store, with the money recycling back into programs at the center.

Makerspaces Room

Makerspaces Room

Like the mountains of materials, these programs evolve and adapt, but generally include regular art classes, a family art series, Saturday skill share, artist exhibitions, kid’s play areas, art camps and open studio hours. The Community Makerspace center offers a chance for anyone to access a room chock-full of traditional tools and new technologies to work on meaningful projects. The equipment is publicly accessible at no charge throughout the week.

Community members often share their skills through free classes in the Makerspace rooms, with topics announced in advance on the Seattle Recreative Facebook page. The center also works hand-in-hand with government agencies and various city programs, ensuring arts access throughout Seattle.

“We are on track to have a very busy summer season partnering with Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle Public Library and King County Libraries. Keep an eye out for us in neighborhoods across the city,” states Boitano.

Creative Playspace at Seattle Recreative

Creative Playspace at Seattle Recreative

Workshops, camps and programs sometimes use art to explore deeper social issues, such as a prior eight-week free program for teens called The Art of Destruction. Participants delved into topics like social justice, environmental impact issues, censorship, carbon footprint shrinkage and community connections, using art and literature in a way that culminated in an exhibition of their own creations.

So where does the center get all their materials? Individuals drop off items constantly, but they also come from businesses, government entities, and retail stores. Donations are tax-deductible, and a list of acceptable and “wish list” items is updated regularly. The simplest items go a long way, particularly old-school craft supplies for the little ones, which disappear quickly and need constant restocking, explains Boitano.

“We can always use things like googly eyes, pipe cleaners, buttons, yarn and bottle caps. We also use lots of yarn and other traditional art supplies.”

Larger items that Seattle Recreative can’t accommodate are always welcome at their sister store, Ballard Reuse, a local architectural salvage company. For demolition or remodel projects over 750 square feet, the City of Seattle requires a Deconstruction and Salvage Assessment completed by a qualified verifying agent, to determine the reusability of items that would otherwise be discarded. Ballard Reuse is one of the city’s qualified agents, completing hundreds of assessments every year.

The old adage stating that “art needs no justification” rings true on many levels – but it just so happens that art is justified when it packs an environmental power punch like it does every day in the cubbyholes, classrooms and paint–playgrounds of Seattle Recreative. Besides that, it’s just plain fun.

“Creativity is contagious,” points out Boitano. “It’s one of the best things about being at Seattle Recreative.”