Whether you are perfecting a long-held skill or acquiring a new one, the benefits of artistic activities are physical, emotional and spiritual. Making and experiencing art are some of the surest ways to connect with our basic humanity. Lawyers are no exception to this rule. Art has the power to change human consciousness and, in turn, transform a community.
Last summer, I became a co-founder of ReCreative Denver. Four years ago, I co-founded its sister organization, Seattle ReCreative. The mission of these organizations is to cultivate creativity, community and environmental stewardship through creative reuse and arts education.
Creative reuse centers are facilities that collect donated materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill and redistribute them to the community. While the size, structure and community benefit of creative reuse centers varies, creative reuse centers function to reduce the amount of usable material entering the waste stream, provide communities with low-cost access to creative materials and stimulate creative activity within the communities that they serve.
This past December, we opened our 8,000-square-foot facility in the heart of Denver’s Santa Fe Art District. Our facility currently serves as a reuse store, classroom, art gallery, event space, member-run carpentry workshop and private studio space for 12 working artists. In our storefront space, we operate a thrift shop for donated arts and crafts supplies and use the proceeds to offset the cost of our low-cost arts programming for adults and children. We frequently donate our facilities and materials to deserving community groups. In our gallery, we hang monthly exhibitions and host musical performances, lectures and private events. We are also improving our multiple community makerspaces, which provide children and adults with access to equipment, workspace and expertise that aren’t available to them at home or at school.
This work is fun. I love what we do but frequently not for the reasons one might think. Every First Friday, I have the privilege of running the register in our reuse store during our monthly art walk. On that night in August, I sold nearly 800 items, ranging from handfuls of beads, paints, castaway sculptures, fabric, corks and miniatures to vintage photographs. Nearly every one of our 190 customers told me how they’d use their unplanned purchase and expressed enthusiasm for our endeavor. The odd little figurine or ball of yarn that customers buy is often not so much an ingredient for a project but a souvenir from the time they spent in our facility. On average days, we have many low-income regulars who drop by in search of the inspiration, advice, connection and affordable goods they aren’t finding elsewhere on our block. This unanticipated opportunity to provide social support and a sense of belonging for the most marginalized members of our community is what I have come to love most about what we do at ReCreative. The activities that occur in this place enable us to be our best and quirkiest selves. It’s impossible for me to quantify the value of instilling a sense of self-worth in another person by fostering their creative work.
And as we enter an era where the federal government seeks to reduce protections and services for the indigent (including legal aid), the arts and the environment, I feel this work is more important now than ever. By providing inclusive arts education, enrichment and access in our community center, we are working for the rights of all people to be treated with dignity and respect. We are standing up for those who have been marginalized by ensuring that everyone who enters ReCreative Denver feels valued and respected for all that makes them unique.
During our first eight months here in the Art District on Santa Fe, we’ve served 2,500 customers and hosted events attended by approximately 5,000 people while diverting over 20,000 pounds of creative materials from area landfills for the purpose of reuse. We feel great about our progress thus far, but with the help of many, I know we can do much, much more. If our Creative Spaces fundraising campaign this summer is a success, we project that we can serve as many as 5,000 artists, including a diversity of low- and moderate-income families, from throughout the Denver area.
Fully realized, we hope to see ReCreative Denver become an anchor institution for artistic and environmental education in the city of Denver for years to come, producing a generation of more active, engaged, sustainable and self-sufficient citizens here in Colorado.
However, there are many moving parts, and in order to continue to serve the diverse needs of our community, we need all the help we can get. You can support us by donating your unwanted arts and crafts supplies, enrolling in a class, volunteering your time, attending one of our exhibitions or events, renting studio or event space, or simply shopping here. Regardless of the trials of your professional life, make a little time for art each and every day. D
Emily Korson is an artist, art educator and co-founder of Seattle ReCreative and ReCreative Denver. A Colorado native, Korson recently returned to Denver after many adventures in Seattle, Brooklyn, Boston, San Francisco and Portland. She holds a B.A. in studio art from Reed College, an advanced certificate in art and design education from Pratt Institute, and an M.F.A. in painting and drawing from the San Francisco Art Institute. She can be reached at email@example.com.