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A crafter’s paradise

The Scrap Exchange promotes creativity through re-use

by Danielle Jackson  


In the heart of Durham’s Central Park District lies an unassuming former tobacco warehouse. Inside is a crafter’s paradise, filled with everything imaginable for any type of creative project.


At its core, The Scrap Exchange is a place where adults and children alike can peruse the shop’s shelves and trademark blue barrels filled with reclaimed goodies — from lab beakers and glass slides to vellum paper and plastic gizmos — and either take them home for craft projects or build creations in the store. Put simply, it’s an artistic treasure hunt.


Since its inception in 1991, the nonprofit has collected discards from more than 250 industries within a 100-mile radius, from pharmaceutical companies to factories and science labs. It then distributes reclaimed materials through its retail store, as well as through community events, parties and workshops.


The state’s only creative re-use center, The Scrap Exchange is manned by a dedicated five-person staff that exemplifies its core mission each day: to promote creativity, environmental awareness and community through re-use.


“We’re not only a nonprofit that is alleviating the amount of materials that are going to the dump, but I also feel like we’re acting as a sustainable nonprofit,” says Ann May Woodward, executive director.


Its self-sustaining nature is evident. Ninety percent of its $200,000 annual budget comes from income generated through in-store sales and fee-for-service programming, while the remaining 10 percent comes from grants and donations. Last year, The Scrap Exchange received a $13,000 grant from the North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance to purchase a van for collecting materials and a $2,500 grant from the Durham Arts Council for operating expenses.


Artistic flair

The store combines the idea of promoting sustainability with the fun of creating art. Founded by a group of individuals seeking to establish a sustainable supply of high-quality, low-cost materials for artists and teachers, education remains at its core as well.


“The cool thing about this place is that you can come in and see what kinds of industries are in our local area,” Woodward says.


“We still have a zipper factory, a parachute factory and a lace factory, among others,” she adds. “It’s a reflection of our community. It’s interesting to learn that not all manufacturing has left the area.”


The Scrap Exchange also has partnered with Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh to create The Scrap Exchange Creation Station, a 300-square-foot activity area that includes bins filled with materials kids can use to build their own creations. It is part of a larger Build It! Gallery that focuses on design, architecture and construction.


Additionally, the organization hosts about 230 events per year throughout the Southeast and about 75 birthday parties in-house, as well as various workshops. Daily activities allow for in-store craft projects, while volunteers work on craft-related tasks with people with disabilities.


Also located within The Scrap Exchange is an art gallery dedicated to showcasing artists who use reclaimed materials. The organization hosts gallery openings, which are held the third Friday of each month in conjunction with downtown Durham’s Third Friday gallery-walk events.


While it recently began accepting residential donations, many items available at The Scrap Exchange are industrial in nature, proving that science and art can go hand in hand.


“The things we get from different labs in the biotechnical industry are fascinating,” Woodward says.


“It makes me think that science and art are really interconnected,” she adds.  “You can do anything in the name of science and art.” 


Danielle Jackson is editor of Wake Living, Fifteen501 and TriadLiving magazines.



If you go

The Scrap Exchange

 548 Foster St., Durham

(919) 688-6960

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday;
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday