UpCycle relocates to Durant Arts Center

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By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

Local creative reuse non- profit UpCycle recently celebrated its expansion and relocation to the Durant Arts Center at 1605 Cameron St. The group officially opened its new doors on May 25, after three years on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray.

Co-founders Susan Miranda and Kelley Organek started the organization after visiting creative recycling center ReMida in Reggio Emilia, Italy in 2010, and were inspired to do something similar in Alexandria. The nonprofit focuses on collaboration and a belief that people of all ages are capable of being creative, and as such they see moving to a new space as beneficial to that mission.

“We’re a relatively new non- profit, and we really see our role as this community outreach organization,” said Organek. “Not only are we collecting materials, but we want to get them back out in the hands of the community and we want to engage the community in the arts. We saw the Durant Center as an opportunity to utilize city space to do just that.”

A large part of UpCycle’s offerings are its classes, which it teaches in conjunction with collecting materials to use as supplies for crafts. The idea is to get people to think about reusing what they have before buying new, and to do so in creative ways.

“We offer all sorts of programs to engage the public,” Organek said. “People can reuse on their own. And creatively, we want to be a source of inspiration but also people who like to do it along with us, we offer all sorts of classes for all ages of people, plus a great deal of com- munity outreach that’s free.”

While the Durant Center opens for city-run programming at 5 p.m., UpCycle has the facility during the day for use. Organek explained the organization has plans beyond just offering classes.

“The space that we’re set ting up right now is a community craft closet,” she said. “You can come and get materials at a very low price. So people tend to join us, or there are other options to be able to buy materials by the bagful.”

That new community craft closet will serve as a focal point for UpCycle’s latest project, which is to expand its work into city schools. Organek said teachers can use the closet for resources in the classroom, and officials want the facility to be accessible as an education center for young people.

Organek said the organization has undertaken an extensive grant-writing process, asking for federal, state and local funding. Among those UpCycle has approached include the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Alexandria Commission for the Arts.

“We’re also a supply resource for teachers too, so instead of going to buy new [materials], we are located right there near Jefferson-Houston and they can come over and get the supplies they need,” she said. “The idea is to reuse what we already have but also offer the supply resource to the community for a very low cost.”

To celebrate its soft opening, UpCycle made use of the gallery space at the Durant Center to set up a community arts show, comprised of work created by those who have taken classes. Organek said the showcase features a variety of media.

“There’s some large mosaics and murals to display,” she said. “Plus, when we do class and camp experiences, our campers will have artwork that will be displayed and then we do a lot of pieces that are not just individual, we work on them altogether.”

It all adds up to a promising future for the organization, which Organek said will look to continue its work and bring it to even more people in its new location.

“Our intention is to continue to engage the community, to help the public and the community to keep creating and being creative, that it’s not something that’s just for kids but it’s for everyone,” she said. “Just like a muscle, you can exercise your creativity, and that’s a big part of it. But we also want to continue to be this outlet for unusual materials that can be used for art and learning.

“Our collection is not just traditional things that you might find at a craft store. We have things like eyeglass lenses, and we have unusual materials that if you look at them in a different way are really interesting supplies that can be used as an educational manipulative or for creating or open-ended experiences.”

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