Kami Goertz’s work has a planet-loving vibe. In her Winnipeg studio, Goertz builds cuddly versions of plants and fungi, and even the occasional bacteria.
For Goertz, her “mellow portobellos” are more than cute stuffed animals. They are a reminder that we are all characters in the larger ecosystem – all connected – and every living thing deserves care and attention. And in line with this environmental theme, she favors a sustainable approach, preferring to use reclaimed materials as much as possible.
Their “soft action figures” are sewn together from a mix of new and used fabrics. “I want to touch the earth as lightly as possible,” says Goertz. “You know, I don’t want to contribute to this waste cycle.”
And going green isn’t just in line with their values. Practical for Goertz – and often cheaper.
But if you’re looking for upcycled art supplies, where’s the best place to find them?
Art Junction, Winnipeg
For Goertz, the answer is Arts Junction in Winnipeg. It’s what you’d call a creative reuse center: a nonprofit organization that keeps discarded art pieces out of landfill by making them available to the public on a pay-what-you-can basis.
The definition of “art supplies” can be liberal. Accepted donations include things you might expect (paint, crayons, canvas, beads) and things you might not expect (keys, pinecones, typewriters). “For me, as a junk lover, it’s heavenly,” laughs Goertz, often rummaging through the creative Reuse depot for vintage fabrics.
The operation has been running in Winnipeg since 2007, and Goertz has been attending for almost as long. When she started making stuffed toys about 13 years ago, her family was young and she didn’t have much money to invest in what was then a new hobby.
I felt [Artsjunktion] really, really got me going as an artist.– Kami Goertz, artist
“I discovered Artsjunction early on and they were basically the way I could do some of these things,” says Goertz, who is self-taught. She has since exhibited her textile sculptures at venues in Canada, the United States and Germany and is a full-time source of funding through art.
“I just started, I didn’t really know what I was doing. If I wanted to experiment, I didn’t have to buy fabric by the yard. …I could just find these little things and make these fun little things,” she explains. “I felt it really, really kickstarted myself as an artist.”
Finding a place where she could buy second-hand material at bargain prices was a turning point for Goertz. Not every town has something like Artsjunction, but for those interested in building a more sustainable craft camp, these are just a few more examples of the resources that can be found across the land.
Concordia University Center for Creative Reuse, Montreal
In Montreal, in Concordia’s Gray Nun’s Building, you will find CUCCR’s Used Material Depot. Everything there is free to take away, and as of early September, visitors have claimed a whopping 2,143 kilograms of this free material. That’s just over two tons, notes Anna Timm-Bottos, CUCCR’s co-founder and project coordinator — or about the same incredible amount of stock she keeps on the premises 24/7.
The center is part of the university’s broader zero-waste strategy, and as such everything it carries is sourced directly from campus. But unlike a generic reuse center, CUCCR encourages treasure hunters to be imaginative when browsing the shelves. It’s not the kind of place you would free up a couch for your dorm lounge, for example. “It’s more about materials, to make something new and not necessarily just like that,” explains Timm-Bottos.
Open to the public – not just students – anyone can access CUCCR by registering for a free membership. So far 3,160 people have registered. Most of these members are from the fine arts faculty, but Timm-Bottos says a significant number come from the community at large. Do you need a screen? scraps of fabric? Binder? they have you
“There’s new stuff every week, but we have some types of materials that will just always be here,” she says. (Take that last item I mentioned? “I’ll never buy a folder again,” she laughs.)
There’s no shortage of stuff, but the stress of having to find it yourself? It potentially limits your creative process and is expensive.– Anna Timm-Bottos, Co-Founder and Project Coordinator, Concordia University Center for Creative Reuse
The project was started in 2017 and actually grew out of Timm-Bottos’ master’s research. The topic? Creative Reuse Centers – a topic she was drawn to through personal experience.
Before joining Concordia, Timm-Bottos worked as an art teacher in Victoria, where she discovered how difficult it can be to fill a classroom with everything you need. It’s also expensive. (For those who don’t know, many teachers pay out of pocket for art supplies.)
“Basically, I decided to use my master’s thesis to find a way to look for alternatives – to find ways that would make it easier for people to find the materials that already exist in the world,” she says . “There’s no shortage of stuff, but the stress of having to find it yourself? It potentially limits your creative process and is expensive.”
take care of Victoria
If only Supply Victoria had been there while Timm-Bottos was still on Vancouver Island. It’s a relatively new company, founded in 2018 by artist Ashley Howe. Since then, Supply Victoria has turned other people’s rubbish into free art supplies for community projects, including schools. And the nonprofit opened its first port of call in February — “a tiny free thrift store for art supplies” that Howe runs at Vancouver Street Plaza in the North Park neighborhood. It’s open to anyone and everyone three afternoons a week and will be there until May 28th.
The pop-up shop offers a selection of items suitable for any project you can dream up with it: collage art journals, ribbons, buttons, pencils, paints and pens. Howe collects donations from people and businesses in the community and accepts donations at 751 Fairfield Road, the future home of Supply Victoria’s storefront.
Howe wants to move in there by the summer and is looking forward to 2,000 square meters of space. A bigger HQ means she can keep even more useful junk out of the landfill, and to that end she says she’s already saved 2,000 pounds of discarded stuff.
“I think everyone is creative. Anyone can make art, and I think everyone deserves access to art supplies,” says Howe. “So this whole thing is just about breaking down those barriers so people can do things to express themselves.”
Other reuse centers with an artistic bent
According to Timm-Botto’s research, there is no organized association of creative reuse centers in Canada. From Howe’s observation, they are much less common here than in the States. Howe worked for several in Portland, Oregon before moving to Victoria, and she hopes to one day establish a Canada-wide network of supply outposts.
“I feel like every community could benefit from one,” she says. “In every city, tons of material unnecessarily end up in landfill.”
But there are still a few out there. For those in search of textiles, Vancouver is home fabcyclea reuse center dedicated to upcycling industrial waste and dead fabrics. Regina’s art supplies exchange is a showcase creative reuse center open to the public on Saturdays.
Anyone can make art, and I believe everyone deserves access to art supplies.– Ashley Howe, Founder and Managing Director of Supply Victoria
But of course, creativity isn’t limited to just reusing centers with that particular word in their title. While Howe was studying art at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University — and struggling to afford art supplies — Urban Source on Main Street was one of her favorite destinations. The “alternative art supply store” stocks a lot of curiosities. They harvest much of their goods from processing industries and sell their finds from Bulk Barn-style trash cans.)
In Edmonton, the city’s waste management program is ongoing reuse center at 83 Street off Argyll Road. Just read this list of everything they collect and you’ll already be thinking of a new craft idea. (Starting this year, everything in the shop is free.)
And for more “free stuff” stores across the country, the CBC newsletter What on Earth? compiled this article about freecycling programs in Canada.
Or get thrifty online or IRL
Your local thrift store is another classic option, and some, like the one in Toronto take doubleeven operate their own reuse centers.
Or there’s always garage and real estate sales and their online equivalents: listings on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji.
“A lot of my supplies are still stuff I’ve accumulated over the years,” says Goertz, who describes herself as a “thrift store junkie.”
“You never know what you’ll find,” she says. And you never know what these discoveries might inspire.