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This organization turns trash into incredible works of art


Ever wondered what happens to the leftover props from film sets or the window displays at Macy's? New York City based nonprofit Materials for the Arts (MFTA) takes many of these miscellaneous items and helps turn them into art. Housed in a 35,000 square foot warehouse, MFTA possesses a massive collection of fabrics, Christmas decorations, mannequins, and other assorted items for use by any approved member.

The organization aims to create public art projects and facilitate arts education by supplying materials to nonprofits, public schools, and city agencies. "We have a really interesting amount of donors," Communications Director Kwame Belle told Circa. "A lot of them come from the fashion industry, so we're looking at Macy's as a big donor, Bloomingdale's. A hit show, 'Orange is the New Black,' on Netflix, has donated to Materials for the Arts."

Although the program isn’t open to individual artists, the MFTA does operate a residency program where they partner with local artists to create unique works built from their salvaged materials. Belle explained, "These artists and residents, they really function like ambassadors. Not only for Materials for the Arts, but for also creative re-use as a whole."

Dianne Smith, MFTA’s most recent resident artist, created a series of sculptures using recycled rope, twine, and fabric. "It's kind of like having my run of Toys-R-Us. It's the ability to go out and walk around and grab any treat you want to make anything you want out of it, with no limitations," Smith told Circa.

Jean Shin, one of MFTA’s other resident artists, utilized a unique partnership with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of art to turn a collection of donated photography slides into what she calls a “Meta Cloud.” Each slide captures an archival photo of past exhibits at the Met.

Jean's and Dianne’s respective projects are great examples of the arts being used as a platform for sustainability. Ultimately, any discarded object could have value from someone else’s perspective or become an integral new addition to a sculpture piece. Shin told Circa, "To be able to give that access of materials to the creative community to do what they wish for it, I mean it can open up new possibilities about what we think of waste and really it's a modeling for sustainable living in our culture."

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