On a morning walk to the Murray post office and back along State Street I discovered a new-to-me shop in town – The Clever Octopus – a clever idea founded by two art educators. The compact store, with workshop space in back, solves several dilemmas some of us artists stew over – how to safely dispose of half-used art and craft supplies taking up valuable studio space; where to buy inexpensive miscellaneous supplies for ourselves or students; and where to take a workshop to pick up some new skills.
All of these opportunities are tentacles of The Clever Octopus. But, wait, there’s more. The non-profit organization will give you a tax receipt for your donations and the satisfaction of knowing that money they make will be used to take art programs into schools.
The Clever Octopus website (www.cleveroctopus.org is attractive, easy to navigate, and has all the information you need about workshops and their extensive “wish list” for donated items. Donations come not only from individuals but also from companies with excess inventory. They’ll even take your (my) old magazines!
If you have the heart and time for some volunteer work, they can use your help, too. Volunteers help sort and repackage donated supplies, tidy the store, assist art instructors, write grants, and market the organization to potential partners. There’s a volunteer application on the website.
The website doesn’t quite prepare you, however, for your first visit to the store. “Think of it as an arts-and-crafts thrift store on steroids,” Sherri Gibb, one of the founders, says with a laugh. Shelves and cubbyholes are neatly stuffed with paints, brushes, papers, and all sorts of other fine-art supplies, along with goggle eyes and a wild assortment of crafting items. You must see it firsthand. Your creative imagination will then assume control of your wallet and your will to leave.
Sherri Gibb was a teacher in community college and private schools where she experienced firsthand the need for resources and ideas for schoolteachers. She got acquainted with artist Jen Lopez at work and through taking classes together at the university. “We each had an idea of what was missing in the arts community,” explains Gibb. “I had a vision of a mobile art studio to take wherever there was a need.” Some individuals and teachers simply didn’t have the resources to go somewhere to take a class, she reasoned.
Meanwhile, Lopez had participated in a “Scrap Exchange” in Durham, North Carolina, a creative reuse center that had been in operation for more than 25 years. She thought something similar might work in Salt Lake City. “We both wanted to work with people who don’t have financial means and others who have lots of leftovers,” says Gibb. They thought their two visions could work well together.
First they started looking for a vehicle that would work as a mobile art studio. They found one in Moab, and on the four-and-a-half-hour drive down to pick it up, they decided on the name of the business and sketched out a business plan. Two months after they returned they had a business license and got to work.
Last August their new business received approval to operate as a 501c(3). That’s when they quietly began soliciting donated “scraps” of arts-and-craft supplies. Within nine months, they had filled three 10×20-foot storage units with more than 16,000 pounds of materials.
“We started looking for a [storefront] facility last fall and, in January, we found our new place on State Street in Murray. On April 1, we opened the first creative reuse center in Utah,” says Gibb.
Fill a box with your own leftovers and pay a visit to the Clever Octopus at 4973 S. State St. It’s open 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday – Friday, and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Sue Martin holds an M.A. in Theatre and has worked in public relations. As an artist, she works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic to capture Utah landscapes or the beauty of everyday objects in still life.