Colored pencils. Wallpaper samples. Assorted sea shells. Wine corks. Picture frames. Highlighter markers. Greeting cards. Trophies. Rulers. Vintage sheet music. Skeins of yarn in every color imaginable. Crayons. Dominoes and other random game pieces. Sponges. Calligraphy tools. Jewelry.
These are just a few examples of the many different types of arts and crafts supplies, tools and other recycled treasures you’ll find during any given visit to Art Parts Creative Reuse Center in Boulder.
The nonprofit, located at 3080 Valmont Road, helps keep tens of thousands of pounds of rescued creative materials out of the landfill each year. At the same time, Art Parts makes arts and crafts supplies—which can be prohibitively expensive for artists, teachers and other creatives—more accessible by offering them for sale at an affordable price.
Inspired by other creative reuse centers located in cities around the country, Boulder-based artist Denise Perreault and other community members decided in 2011 to see if the concept would take off here.
And it has. In the middle of a recent Wednesday afternoon, a half-dozen shoppers milled around the store, searching through the various well-organized boxes, bins and shelves for items that could help inspire their next project.
“Stuff is flying off the shelves,” says Megan Moriarty, Art Parts’ executive director.
Making Creative Materials Accessible
Art Parts opened its first retail location on Bluff Street in 2015, then moved to its current, larger space on Valmont Road in 2021.
At the store, 12 part-time employees and lots of volunteers take in donations from a wide variety of people: professional artists who are paring down their stashes, companies with funky industrial leftovers or samples, art students who are moving out of town, family members cleaning out a deceased loved one’s home and anyone else with items that could potentially be useful for arts and crafts. (Want to donate? You can find a full list of accepted items on the Art Parts website, artpartsboulder.org.)
Staff and volunteers then painstakingly sort the donated items and group them into highly detailed categories that make them easy for shoppers to find.
They also determine a price for each item, usually about half off the typical retail price. Especially in such a high-cost-of-living area, that affordability—and subsequent accessibility—is a big part of the organization’s mission.
“Our society has a ton of baggage around the term ‘artist’ and who can call themselves one, and it’s important to just democratize that and say that however anybody wants to express themselves is valid,” says Moriarty. “Everybody should have access to these different kinds of creative materials. As a community, we should value making those resources widely available.”
As devastating and disruptive as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, it’s also given many people time and space to tap into their creative sides. During the early part of the pandemic, when people were largely isolating at home, many picked up traditional crafts like sewing, knitting and needle-felting. As a result, Art Parts saw a surge in demand from shoppers.
And, as more and more people become aware of the mission over the years, Art Parts has also seen an uptick in donations. Case in point: The shop took in 40 percent more donations in 2022 than it did in 2021.
Zooming out even more, Art Parts has diverted an impressive 272,530 pounds of waste from landfills since 2015.
“The more people understand the idea behind what we’re doing, the more they look at the stuff they’re planning to just throw away differently,” says Moriarty. “And they might think, ‘Oh, I saw that at Art Parts once, maybe somebody else can use it.’ A lot of people in Boulder are down with the idea of reuse in general, and they are really motivated by the idea of something not going into a landfill and going to someone else instead.”
Because the store has a high turnover rate—from new donations each week, as well as strong sales—shoppers tend to return, again and again, to see what might spark their imaginations.
Art Parts also tries to provide inspiration, too. The organization regularly shares projects— made by shoppers, staff members and volunteers with items from the store—via its Instagram page and email newsletter; a wall just inside the store’s front door, called “Made with Art Parts,” also displays various pieces of creative reuse artwork. On a table at the front of the store, staff and volunteers highlight ways to repurpose specific materials, like used canvases, and suggest seasonal project ideas, like homemade Valentine’s Day cards, for instance.
Often, though, shoppers simply wander around until they stumble upon something—or, as is often the case, multiple somethings—that intrigues them.
“Honestly, most people are so creative if given a little bit of time and space,” says Moriarty. “I have no idea how they get from point A to point B, but they do. That’s one of the things I love about this job is just seeing the different ways people express themselves.”
By the Numbers
In 2022, Art Parts:
– Completed 26,588 in-shop transactions
– Diverted 83,944 pounds of waste from landfills,
– Donated $5,000 in gift cards to victims of the Marshall Fire
– Distributed another $4,989 worth of free or discounted materials to local teachers and nonprofits