Thursday, February 9, 2017

Art Supplies for Everyone: How a Thrift Store is Supporting Creative Reuse

Recently I found myself in a neighborhood of downtown Cincinnati, where I wandered into a quaint storefront that instantly had me in awe. It was a relatively new resale shop called Indigo Hippo, and it was full of colorful and eclectic art supplies that, donated by folks who no longer needed them, were waiting for their forever home. With drawing materials, papers, paints, and pieces begging to be part of an assemblage, it kind of felt like a candy store, for artists.

I immediately began a conversation with Alisha Budkie, the Executive Director, about the store’s concept because I knew it was something that you, dear reader, would appreciate hearing about (and who knows, maybe you’ll open your own?). I learned that Indigo Hippo’s mission is to make art accessible to everyone. And that, my friends, is exactly what they’re doing. ~Cherie

An art supplies thrift store |

Photography by Christine Polomsky

Community Need and Creative Reuse

From Alisha Budkie of Indigo Hippo

Two and a half years ago we began trying to approach mental and emotional health in a way that wasn’t stigmatizing. All paths led to creativity as an approachable way to normalize differences. For this to be possible, it felt right to create a safe space built around community that would allow the necessary creative materials to be more accessible. Creative reuse is active in over 140 U.S. cities. We were able to implement this proven model based on the needs of our community.

In 2009 as I was graduating from DAAP and starting Crafty Supermarket with Grace Dobush, I saw a strong need within our creative community for another resource for art materials. The materials we use to express ourselves become as meaningful as the artistic practices themselves. I opened a design and art supply shop in Over the Rhine (Cincinnati) to serve the local students and artists, focusing on materials and tools that were well made and made in the U.S. But it wasn’t sustainable long term. Art supplies that were made by eco-conscious, small businesses weren’t affordable for many artists, teachers and especially students.

Six years later, Indigo Hippo is in the same space that I originally renovated and opened, with a resource that our community is really connecting with and using.

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It’s All About the People

Every day we see art students, community organizers, teachers, artists, crafters, youth from our own community and just about everyone else. Some familiar faces visit multiple times a week to see what new materials have been donated. We love learning about the art they’re making and hearing about their lives.

We’ve been very fortunate that word of mouth has spread quickly and we still see new faces coming in every day. Other relationships have developed through our monthly gallery shows and our support of many local community groups and organizations.

An art supplies thrift store |

What Kinds of Art Supplies Get Donated?

We’re constantly surprised by the donations that come through our door. Some of the larger items have been really interesting—19th-century doors, an inkle loom, a standing antique sewing machine. Incredible things show up daily, such as beautiful copper bits, laser cut wood scraps, coffee beans, seashells and feathers. Other common donations include paints of all kinds, frames, screen printing tools and inks, spray paint, canvases and all sorts of interesting papers and yarns.

Art Supplies Coming Full Circle

Yes! Our community is awesome, and people often tag us in Instagram pictures that highlight work made from materials they’ve found at our shop. When we’re extra lucky, people bring their artwork into the store and show us in person. Also, the work in our gallery shows has often been made using materials from the shop.

Want to Open an Art Supplies Thrift Store in Your Neighborhood?

Rest assured that you will get material donations! For us, that seemed like the hardest part of the process to trust. We’re still blown away by the amount and quality of the donations we receive daily. And listen to what your community needs. There are so many different ways to do creative reuse—find the way that’s right for you and your city. Go for it! People visit us from all over and every life path because they connect with how valuable it is to make creativity accessible and keep usable materials out of the waste stream.

Pay What You Can

We are now “Pay What You Can!” An art supplies thrift store | This decision came from a lot of observation and thought. While many people who visited us at the shop were quite surprised at how affordable our prices were, and even ended up donating a few extra dollars, there were others who were still stretching or weren’t able to get the materials they needed. Two dollars means something different to everyone, and we’re really inspired by the new conversations in our storefront around value. Rather than putting a price tag on something and telling you what it’s worth to you, we would like to give you the opportunity to determine that value for yourself!

Surprises from the Pay-What-You-Can Model

We’re continually amazed by how generous people are. There’s a strong desire in the community for these good art materials to stay out of the waste stream and be used by someone else. We’re stunned at how deeply people connect with this resource and how grateful they are for its existence. We’re hopeful and surprised by how well the Pay-What-You-Can model is going so far. Our store traffic has increased and we’re able to get more materials into the hands of those that need them regardless of their life circumstances.

As we were researching “Pay What You Can,” we were asked, “can you pay a little more so someone else can pay a little less?” It’s inspiring to see individuals really understand that and be generous.

An art supplies thrift store |

Alisha Budkie, Executive Director of Indigo Hippo in Cincinnati, Ohio

On Donating Art Supplies

Regarding donations, if someone can use it to be creative we accept it! Anything from traditional art supplies to weird creative materials. Paint, ink, sketchbooks, canvases, pens and markers, paper, yarn, wood and metal scraps, sewing notions, fabric, beads, frames, tiles, ribbon, books, office supplies, natural bits like pinecones and seashells.

When in doubt, bring it in—there are very few things we turn down. If we find we can’t use something in our space, we will resource/re-donate/recycle it, so that pressure isn’t on our customer. Since we’re a nonprofit all donations are tax deductible, and you can drop off a donation anytime we are open! Currently, Indigo Hippo is open Tuesday-Saturday 11:00 am to 6:00 pm and Sunday 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm. As it warms up we’ll be adding Mondays and staying open until 7:00 pm.

Beyond Art Supplies: Visual Arts Programming for the Community

Through creativity, we’re able to increase our impact through partners that see the same need and share our vision to remove the stigma around mental and emotional differences. This past year we provided creative arts programming for Camp Joy, Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired and MORTAR. Our curriculum addresses social and emotional growth, builds resilience and grit, and strengthens participants’ sense of self and confidence. We’ll continue working with all of these organizations and will begin developing and implementing the creative arts programming for seven additional organizations.

Below: Challenge of Color Tips in Oil and Acrylic With Craig Nelson

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