Reduce, reuse and recreate

“Game Day,” a mix media piece by Hector Vega is included in the current MFTA exhibit. Photo by Allison Plitt
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Have you ever worked on a crafts project at home and ended up with excess buttons, ribbon, paper or yarn? Have you ever toiled at a company that has supplies or office furniture that it no longer uses?

If you’ve answered yes to both questions, you can donate these unneeded objects to Materials for the Arts, New York City’s municipal creative reuse center, located in Long Island City.

“MFTA collects donations of unneeded supplies from businesses and individuals and distributes them for free to thousands of non-profit arts organizations and public schools, helping the city divert more than 1 million pounds of materials from landfill every year,” Rachel Kuo, communications coordinator for MFTA, said. “By providing access to free materials, we level the playing field for a huge range of large and small, grassroots and well-established organizations across the city’s different neighborhoods. Our materials allow all of them to produce quality programs that enrich the city’s culture.”

From now through May 9, people can see examples of how some of these donated items have been put to use again, at the MFTA’s first exhibit of recipient artwork called “Reuse Remixed: Small Works Show.”

All the contributing artists are based in New York City and their pieces on exhibit contain materials from the MFTA warehouse located in Long Island City. There are 150 art pieces on display by 60 different artists. The exhibit itself is at MFTA’s Gallery. Their 35,000-square-foot office space also houses a warehouse, classrooms and studio space for an artist in residence to work.

The artists who reuse donated materials are practicing “creative reuse,” in which excess materials are passed on to those who will use it.

Antonio Pontón-Núñez, MFTA’s director of development, explains the difference between “recycle” and “reuse.”

“When you recycle, you send something to a recycling plant and then the plastic is broken down,” Pontón-Núñez said. “When you’re reusing, you’re actually minimizing the carbon footprint of taking that item apart and literally re-inventing the use of it.”

Created in 1978, MFTA is part of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and supported by the Departments of Sanitation and Education. In the 1990s MFTA wanted to become accessible for public school teachers, so the Department of Education provided the reuse center with additional funding.

MFTA’s Education Center offers a wide variety of workshops and programs for students and educators.

One example is MFTA’s residencies, which bring artists with educational backgrounds to schools or sites to work with teachers and students on art projects linked to curriculums. MFTA hosts field trips where students can tour the warehouse and create reuse artwork reusing donated materials.

Friends of Materials for the Arts, the non-profit organization that acts as a public-private partner to MFTA, sponsors the Artist-in-Residence program.

“[The residency] is not a city program, but something Friends of Materials for the Arts raises money for,” Pontón-Núñez said. “We give selected NYC-based artists a stipend, access to materials and studio space which culminates in their own exhibit.”

Besides the small works group show, MFTA will hold three other exhibits in its gallery this year.

Artist-in-Residence Bernard Klevickas will put his artwork on display from May 15 - Aug. 20, “35 Years of MFTA: Retrospect­ive” will be shown from Aug. 21 - Nov. 14, and Artist-in-Residence Lina Puerta will exhibit her creations from Nov. 20 - Feb. 20, 2015.

Despite the increasing number of creative programs MFTA offers, Pontón-Núñez reiterates the underlying mission of MFTA: creative reuse.

“It’s important that people start thinking that recycling is not the only option to saving the environment,” he said. “If people can stop throwing away the plastic bottle and just reuse it constantly every day, then we’ll definitely be in a better place.”

Learn more about Materials for the Arts at To donate, e-mail If you’re a teacher, e-mail to find out if your school has an active account to receive free materials. For arts organizations and city agencies, call 718-729-3001 to find out if you are eligible for a recipient membership.

Posted 12:00 am, April 23, 2014
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