A New Orleans-style brass band paraded around the new Scrap Exchange store Sunday as artists in search of material sifted through bins of bottle caps, pipettes, vinyl records and more.
The Scrap Exchange celebrated the grand opening of its new Durham location, at 2050 Chapel Hill Road, all afternoon with music, displays and what organizers said they hoped was the first of many trash-free food truck rodeos.
Trash is the enemy of the Scrap Exchange. The nonprofit store takes in anything people and businesses in the area might otherwise throw away – to the tune of about 70 tons of material a year – and sells it back to artists and others at bargain-basement costs.
“Artists and reusable materials go hand-in-hand,” Ann Woodward, the group’s executive director, said. “I mean, look at Picasso. He used tons of found materials. ... I mean, is Picasso going to go to an art supply store? I don’t think so. He’s going to come to the Scrap Exchange.”
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Unfortunately for Pablo Picasso, the Spanish artist and inventor of the collage, he died 18 years before the Scrap Exchange opened inside Northgate Mall in 1991.
In 2000 the store moved to the Liberty Warehouse in downtown’s tobacco district, but the roof there partially collapsed in 2011, and the building was condemned.
Finding a home
The group then moved temporarily to the Cordoba Center for the Arts before purchasing its current home in 2013 and moving in August.
Inside the new 23,000-square-foot store, people can dig through stocks of assorted metal, wood and glass or go straight for the tool boxes, rubber stamps, electrical cords, rope, audiobooks and assorted fabrics.
There are also a half-dozen radiators, some musical instruments, a cement mixer and other odds and ends.
“It’s not like a hardware store, where everything is regulated,” longtime Scrap Exchange aficionado Jim Kellough said. “It’s an adventure ... kind of like surrealist shopping.”
Woodward said the building already feels like home, and that she hopes a growing number of children and adults alike come to rely on it for their artistic endeavors.
Membership has grown in recent years to 116 local artists, she said, and hundreds more come there just to shop or take part in classes and parties hosted there.
Sunday’s crowd was an eclectic mix. Older, impeccably dressed women waited at the food trucks alongside young families and a bearded man wearing a dress and sneakers.
Likewise, Woodward said, her outreach targets also come from varied backgrounds. She and others from the Exchange travel the southeast, spreading the dual messages of art and recycling in prisons, pediatric hospitals and anywhere else that wants them.
Kellough questioned whether the store’s existence would do much to stem what he called the impending extinction of the human race, but he said he at least likes the message.
“It’s not like you’re stopping the landfills from growing, but you’re selling the idea of re-use,” he said.
Anne Gregory, a former art teacher for Durham Public Schools, said she used to take her classes to the Scrap Exchange and enjoys coming back now as a full-time artist.
On Sunday Gregory was helping Scrap Exchange co-founder Bryant Holsenbeck create a massive necklace for the building.
Holsenbeck said the building’s white exterior was too boring. So she gathered a handful of volunteers and grabbed a 20-foot rubber garden hose, alternating jokes and instructions at breakneck pace as they crafted the necklace.
“Oh, I just told them this bead looked good, but it’s actually one I made earlier,” she said at one point. “How embarrassing.”
The bead in question was an amalgamation of packing foam, ribbons, Christmas bows and other would-be junk.
Other beads like it were separated by plastic yellow cylinders that used to hold spools of yarn. The medallion was a bicycle tire decorated with gum containers, wire and purple plastic squares.
Holsenbeck has been around since the beginning, when the idea for the Scrap Exchange migrated to Durham from Australia. Since then she has seen the group grow, and she has also seen it struggle – especially with its frequent moves.
But she said it’s in a good place now – especially because, as she noted with pride, “We own this one.”