Arts & Entertainment, Nonprofits, and Sustainability

Thrift shop re-envisions art supplies

October 27, 2014
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Thrift shop re-envisions art supplies
The Wisemaker Creative Reuse Center is part of The Geek Group, a nonprofit in northwest Grand Rapids. Courtesy Wisemaker

An arts and crafts thrift shop with a mission to reuse and sell the region’s reclaimed creative materials is now open for business.

Kelly Allen opened the doors last month to her Wisemaker Creative Reuse Center in Grand Rapids, as part of the science and education nonprofit The Geek Group, at 902 Leonard St. NW.

Wisemaker was a long-time dream of Allen’s, who recently returned to Michigan with her husband after having spent almost eight years in California, where she focused on building her gallery exhibition career.

“Chris Boden (president and founder of The Geek Group) decided that he wanted to not only give me the space and resources to create a creative reuse store, but he asked me to be the director of their arts and craft department that was not in existence yet,” Allen said. “There was room here slated to be office space, but we decided to turn it into the creative reuse space. It’s all one entity . . . the latest addition of Geek Group.”

The supplies

The shop is filled with donated materials like fabrics, foam shapes, paints, pencils, pastels and other fine art supplies.

Allen said all the materials in her shop come from local donors and the over abundance of manufacturers.

The products, which are usually high-quality, virgin materials, are not always found in retail craft stores, and if they were, they’d be “a lot more expensive,” Allen said.

She said she tries to price items at half price if they’re “slightly used,” and the items are generally priced at 80 percent or less than retail.

“Being a college arts student, you’re spending a lot of money on supplies, so this is a way for people to not only save money on supplies, but also find unique materials.”

Art center

Wisemaker is also looking to be a local hub of art development and education, offering workshops and tools for people.

The shop, which has sewing machines, embroidery machines, scissors, paints and glue guns, offers membership to use its studio tools: $40 a month; annual memberships for $1 a day; and $10 for a day.

She has also launched a materials workshop on Wednesdays, from 6-8 p.m., with plans to offer more soon.

Sustainable art

“I was calling it Wisemaker, because wise are the makers who create with reclaimed materials,” Allen said. “We really need to start thinking more about the environment, especially with the arts. Professional people don’t really talk about toxicity of the materials we use. I want to bring up that issue of sustainability in the artist studio.”

There’s a growing market in West Michigan for arts and crafts, Allen said, adding that ArtPrize was the start of a movement that’s shifting the city toward a higher respect for art and creativity.

A lot of her creative friends, who had moved away, are, like her, moving back, a sign that it was time to found her creative reuse center in her native state.

“When we were moving back, I knew it would be successful, because the city is moving more towards creative things,” she said. “It feels right. It feels like people are ready.” 

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