Story and Photography by Emily Fava —
Danielle Anderson couldn’t bare to let boxes of silks and flowers that her friend left behind before she passed away to rot in her home or be thrown into a dumpster, so she turned to the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.
After Damon DiCicco and his band signed its first record deal and was looking for stage decor, that same center provided a wide assortment of reusable stuff.
What began as passionate volunteer work at the center not only changed the way Erika Johnson thinks of litter but grew into a job as the center’s director.
“A lot of the stuff we have here may not be considered conventional trash/litter, but it definitely could have ended up in an alleyway or a street somewhere,” said Johnson.
From artists to children, to local crafters, The Pittsburgh Creative Center for Reuse gives people in the Pittsburgh area the chance to donate or reuse odd items that people are getting rid of and expand their creative side through their shop and educational programs while tackling the world’s largest eyesore, litter.
The Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse was founded in 2008, with all work being done by volunteers through outreach programs. A project of the Pennsylvania Resources Council from 2008 through 2012, PCCR is now a non-profit organization. After frequent visits to Pittsburgh to pursue her relationship, Johnson began volunteering at PCCR and was eventually asked to set up the retail shop and become the first paid staff member by founder, Faith Miller.
The first small shop was located in the attic of their “big brother shop”, Construction Junction from 2010 to 2011. After just one short year, the shop became so popular that Construction Junction rented out a larger section of their facility located at 214 North Lexington Street to PCCR. With 35 tons of reusable material diverted from local landfills and streets in 2014, there’s no stopping this community-based organization.
The education programs that PCCR has grown into would not reach the community to the extent that they have without the effort and hours of preparation that educational director Nora Gilchrist puts in.
“We encourage re-use not only in our programs but in our participants everyday lives as well,” said Gilchrist. “After maybe they’ll look at material that they’d throw out and see how much potential a postcard could have,” as she assorted postcards for a program at The Alleghany Green Arms Festival.
PCCR makes it a point to educate the community with events both on and off site in the Pittsburgh region. Often being hired out, PCCR works with after school organizations, local libraries, teachers and larger scale events like the Three Rivers Arts Festival, First Night Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Maker Faire. Their hands-on programs give participants the opportunity to create suggested projects with their pre-made craft kits or dive into an open-ended project using just about anything. At the Pittsburgh Maker Faire, makers were able to spin a wheel and pull tabs bingo style for project inspiration at PCCR’s booth. Bins were numbered with material ranging from old empty beeper covers to rolls upon rolls of receipt papers.
The idea of putting together a 4,000 square foot shop didn’t stand in shop manager Ashley Andrews way of actually creating and imagining the possibilities that the shop could hold.
“It was like I was in charge of creating a magnificent, expansive, interactive art installation,” said Andrews.
It all starts with the donors who bring material to PCCR. Anyone is welcome to drop off boxes of reusable material, as long as they fit the guidelines online. Moving families, spring cleaners, local businesses, and large businesses are just a few of the sources that PCCR collects material from.
Card catalogs filled with old bottle caps, canceled stamps, and googly eyes are just a few of the small treasures donated to PCCR that you can buy for only a quarter a piece to add to any creative project. The shop itself is PCCR’s largest source of revenue, with over 15,900 visits in 2014. Signs hanging from the ceiling labeled frames, vintage, media, bulk, fabric, and register help to guide shoppers in the creative direction that they are looking for.
The vintage section has almost anything you could imagine being in your grandmother’s attic, old furs, hat boxes, non-functioning cameras, unique tins and let’s not forget those long forgotten bowling trophies. The media section takes you on a time warp journey from 1950 and beyond with bins full of old vinyl records, cassette tapes, scratched and unscratched CDs and VHS tapes. Their bulk section features anything from hundreds OF misprinted tour brochures to a barrel full of satin Yakimas, and for only $8 you can fill up a bag with as much material that you can fit. The search for cheap school supplies can come to an end at PCCR, their shelves of used and unused notebooks and binders can fulfill all of your studying needs. The fabric section seems to be the biggest hit amongst shoppers with yards of assorted fabrics, sewing string, yarn and bins of unique miss-match buttons.
The lack of consciousness that so many Pittsburghers have over what they leave behind is an anomaly that Anderson cannot understand, but with a place like PCCR she has hope.
“Everyone here does a fabulous job preventing litter and landfill waste and spreading awareness, it’s young people changing the way that we do things,” said Anderson
Point Park professor Damon DiCicco, along with his wife Raye and pug Walnut make frequent visits to the center for reuse and can see the progress that Pittsburgh is making to transform into a greener and cleaner city.
“I’m originally from Seattle and there is a lot of awareness on litter there, but with a place like PCCR I can see a lot of progress and am excited to see what’s to come next,” said DiCicco.
The idea of just throwing something away always seemed weird to shop manager Andrews, and her deep commitment to art making, art appreciation, and the environment truly shows her dedication to the shop.
“We know that we want to reduce the amount of usable stuff from ending up in the streets, landfills and waterways and we know that the only way to do that is to break open the thick layer of ignorance that society unintentionally piles around people’s consciousness,” said Andrews