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WasteShed Evanston brings creative recycling to the North Shore

Not everyone would expect to see a ball pit turned into a coffin when they walk into an art store, but at The WasteShed in Evanston, customers can see just that and more unique, donated items.

“People go to a grocery store and have a very specific list of things they need,” said volunteer coordinator Teresa Meza. “That won’t really work with The WasteShed.”

A woman (alive) lies in a coffin with her arms raised.  The box is filled with colorful plastic balls. Eleanor Ray lies in a coffin in The WasteShed’s Evanston store. When she received the item as a donation from a television show, she decided to put ball pit balls in it and display it in the store. (Courtesy photo by Eleanor Ray)

The WasteShed opened its Evanston location on November 20th at 1245 Hartrey Ave. At the interface of art, education and sustainability, the non-profit organization takes new or used art and craft materials and sells them at low prices. By December 20th, they had received over £ 7,000 in donations.

Eleanor Ray founded the original WasteShed in Chicago in 2014 with the hope of creating a space that sells art supplies at a reasonable price while tackling the excess of waste. Creative reuse, the process of taking objects and reinterpreting their use in an inventive or artistic way, was a pillar of her own work and she wanted to share this idea with the Chicago community.

“A lot of good materials are wasted,” said Ray. “So I started The WasteShed to close the loop and turn garbage as a burden into an asset for the creative community.”

The store has a department of school supplies that is free for teachers who also get 25% off the rest of the store. Ray said it was important to her to provide teachers with painting supplies as many pay out of pocket for these products.

Chicago-based Jenn Romero views The WasteShed as an integral part of her life. As a long-time customer of the store and friend of Ray, she took advantage of The WasteShed’s low prices to learn new craft hobbies during the pandemic.

“It doesn’t feel like a business, let alone a nonprofit,” said Romero. “You go in and it’s just this magical room where you can let your creative imagination run wild.”

Romero previously worked in education and in nonprofits where she worked with many low-income people, she said. When families were looking for art supplies, she often referred them to what she called the “Library of Cool Stuff”.

Romero’s favorite item she bought in the store is a dried starfish. She hasn’t visited the Evanston location due to COVID-19 fears and travel times, but said it was on her to-do list.

Meza first met Ray in 2013 while running a nonprofit thrift store in Oak Park. In the years that followed, Meza held many positions at The WasteShed and took over her current position as volunteer coordinator a few months ago. She hopes the store will help pave the way for a future where artistic expression does no harm to the planet.

“The world is melting – literally. We produce a lot of waste when we are just in our daily lives and there is no reason why art should be generated from new products, ”said Meza. “Creative reuse is so natural for so many artists that they see what they have, they have limitations and they can make something new and beautiful out of it.”

Due to the recent surge in Omicron variant cases, The WasteShed is holding back planning many events. Going forward, however, Meza said they want to expand programs and education, as well as expand the reach of the Evanston community.

They will continue to host Discardisco, an annual trash-to-fashion competition held at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago on February 10th. Until then, Ray looks forward to deepening ties with The WasteShed’s new neighbors.

“It was really amazing to see this community develop,” said Ray. “And we’re very excited to be doing it again in Evanston.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @AudreyHettleman

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