Monday, August 17, 2015

Inspiring Messages from "The Social Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Creative Reuse Center"

I have now twice read through my copy of "The Social Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Creative Reuse Center" by Kelley Carmichael Casey and Alyssa Kail and now feel ready to share some thoughts about the text, including useful messages and tips from its pages. While the book provides useful pragmatic information and advice (including worksheets at the end of most chapters), I mostly want to share the words that really resonate with me.

Before this analysis, I would like to mention that I took a course earlier this year from March until May offered by local leader Marian Donnelly called "How to Run a Non-Profit Organization" at the Creative City Centre (a cultural hub for artists spanning from spoken word to print media, which includes a gallery/performance venue, as well as, studio spaces for rent). I found a lot of material covered in this book was covered extensively in this course, BUT I found it very helpful that the book focused solely on CRC's whereas the course offered a much broader reach to include a myriad of arts and cultural organizations. This course was integral to the Art Supply Exchange. Marian not only provided me with mentorship as I started this venture, but I met Jennifer McRorie, former director of CARFAC Sask in this class.

Together these two resources presented a comprehensive and integral guide as I started to explore this CRC adventure.

Page# Quotation Thoughts
7 "Starting a creative reuse center is a full-on commitment, takes hard work and good community relations, as well as resilience and a willingness to explain your mission over and over to potential stakeholders." The book does a great job of balancing a "go-getter" attitude with the risk-taking reality of starting any business or non-profit. The authors are clearly very passionate about this work but are not afraid to tell you it comes with its challenges.
7 "...cast-off goodies and doo-dads..." I just love the terminology they used in the book. Very easy to read with a conversational feel.
9 "A creative reuse center is a place full of color, texture, inspiration, and, typically, a little chaos." Any artist's dream.
9 "And items that likely would have wound up in a trash or recycling bin are, at best, reused in a sustainable way or, at worst, postponed from entering the waste stream." We hope the objects that are taken home from our stores are responsibly used but we can never be sure. I hope that people who are interested in committing to the reuse mission by volunteering or purchasing items do take it seriously and integrate daily practices in their lives. It can be as simple as having a tote bag in your home where you put these objects instead of putting them in the trash.
10 "[CRC's] change the sustainability conversation by acknowledging that there is value in repurposing materials for strictly aesthetic reasons." There are a myriad of artists integrating this methodology in their studios. One of my personal favorites is El Anatsui.
17 "It's important to never turn away a donation without giving the donor options for reuse and/or responsible disposal." I want to add a section to our List of Accepted Items that does address this. Regina does have a wealth of charities and thrift stores that (I'm sure) would love these donations.
19 "Passion plays an important role in establishing a creative reuse center. Without a compelling drive, it's difficult to stay the course when it gets bumpy. And at times it will get plenty bumpy... Consider how tempting it can be to bail out of a situation when nothing seems to be going right. You'll need an anchor to hang on to during challenging times. Enthusiasm and passion for the work make up that anchor." I know I will always have this enthusiasm and passion and I hope my future coworkers, board members, and community can see this clearly. One of my biggest worries is not losing this passion myself but the community who uses and volunteers with the centre losing this passion and leaving me on my own. It is a worry but not a reality. I have experienced a wealth of support already in the past month of announcing the Art Supply Exchange and this energizes me.
20 "If you are attracted to starting up a creative reuse center in your community, we'll make some assumptions about you... You are either crafty or a hoarder. We'll assume the former." I had a very good laugh at this statement. I do regularly say, though, that artists and educators have a little hoarder in their heart. Often we'll hold onto items "just in case" we need it in the future because we don't know if our next grant application will be accepted or if our schools will approve the spending. We have to learn to survive in sometimes very bleak and bitter circumstances (ie: funding has been cut from our schools and we have to dig into our personal savings to purchase just the necessary materials to maintain programs) but we are thrifty and make do, to say the least. Supporting one another I think is the greatest strength of creative reuse.
33 "While creative reuse is the best thing ever, you need to find out if other people in your community agree." Although I haven't done any formal feasibility studies, my goal was always to start small and sustainable with room to grow.
43 "You are creating an arts and environmental organization. A creative reuse center is a beautiful marriage of two disciplines that aren't always seen as naturally connected. You will need champions in both sectors to thrive." I would recommend reading To Life! Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet by Linda Weintraub. It informed a lot of my research into eco art models. I particularly liked the definition of the three strands of eco artists (the second being the model of creative reuse centres): the first utilizes raw material from natural environments (e.g., sap, pollen, feathers, bark, bone, branches), the second draws from discarded and degraded manufactured material (e.g., manufactured goods in landfills or second-hand shops), and the third explores living plants, microbes, and animals (pg. 43).
59 "You'll need to straddle the fence that separates pure creative ingenuity from brass tacks facts and figures." A good reminder for balance.
62 "We are big fans of surveys. We find that the more data collected and analyzed, the better informed we are about our function in the stakeholder village. Without establishing feedback loops, you could be preaching to the choir, working in a silo, and worse, potentially developing programs and services that please you but don't resonate with your stakeholders." I liked their use of the term "stakeholders," which relates to the community you serve, other organizations that sponsor you, members, volunteers, and everyone in between that has some investment in your organization. It is concise but inclusive.
71 "Remember the Rule of Seven from advertising? Reportedly, people need to hear a message a minimum of seven times before they act on it. If you are using email, newsletters, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, you're priming the pump to pay attention to the buzz." Another useful tip.
87 "It's hard to decline the services of a willing individual when you have so much work to do. We still advocate that you screen carefully and engage those who are a good fit." Learning from other reuse centres, I am drafting a comprehensive policy with job descriptions before I seek out any support. Having this structure in place is very important to me because I struggle when I am surrounded by too much chaos.
87 "Finally, once you have your corps of volunteers, treat them like exactly what they are - solid gold." Volunteers = solid gold.
105 "You are on the cutting edge of an exciting movement in reuse history." It is exciting to be a part of a larger movement of reuse, diy, life hacks, and other trendy terms. I even started a Pinterest page for the Art Supply Exchange, as an alternative to printing pamphlets with ideas for reuse, which makes it easier to share ideas of interest and uses less paper.
105 "Our hope is that you have decided that you are exactly the type of person with that kind of passion to start up a creative reuse center... We wish you the greatest joy and sense of accomplishment in helping the community, helping the planet and creating economic opportunities." Again, I was happy with the authors mix of hard truths and excited encouragement. It made me feel secure in my choices and decisions, as well as, pointing out some additional material I may have not considered.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience!
-Erika Folnovic

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