VCUarts Reuse Library


The environmental impact of an artistic practice has been a longstanding concern for VCUArts students and faculty. As artists, we take on the environmental burden of working with non-renewable materials. The community acknowledges the substantial carbon-footprint and is riddled with concern and anxiety for our global environmental crisis. Addressing this issue, students and faculty have taken initiative by joining ethical art organizations, taking dumpster diving trips together, and using recycled materials to create their artworks.

In response to the growing need for sustainable arts practices, VCUArts sculpture faculty, Corin Hewitt, established a lasting haven for recycled art supplies. With the support of other VCUArts faculty, Hewitt was able to secure funding for the Reuse Library, Material Index, and Loose Parts Play Spaces  through VCU’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program. Through Hewitt’s Vertically Integrated Projects class, Being Material, students are also able to get credit working on these projects. These initiatives represent innovative solutions to addressing challenges within the arts community. 

As a student in the art program, I have personally benefited from using the Reuse Library and found it valuable in terms of saving me money, time, and creative inspiration. The Reuse Library is primarily student-run, collecting donations from local businesses and fellow students to divert materials from landfills. It is also open access, meaning all students can use it without anyone standing over their shoulder to see what they are taking! 

The library has an abundance of wood, plexiglass, fabric, foam, scrap metal, and hardware. They do turn away some materials that are not ideal for reuse such as household objects and furniture. My personal favorite finds have been leopard print fabric, a new bucket of joint compound, oodles of clear plexiglass, metalsmithing tools, and pink paint!

I sat down with the current Reuse Library student coordinator, Isa Dray, to hear about how students can use these materials. 

“I believe that students can imagine more for themselves and see more possibilities when they have materials around them. When you have access to lots of free acrylic or high-quality wood at your disposal you can imagine a project you would not have been able to envision because the cost of the materials would have been a barrier.” Dray said

The project has sparked deeper and more conscious thinking among the students who run it and interact with it. 

Dray explained that in running the center they ask themself “How do we build deeper relationships with the materials we work with? How do we ask more questions about where they came from and where they go after we use them? What is the legacy and lifespan of the material before and after it came into our hands?”

I consider myself lucky to predominantly work with metal, a substance capable of being melted down to experience countless lives. Unfortunately, not all materials share the privilege of limitless reusability. The next time you are thinking about tossing out or donating fabric scraps, containers, excess paint, nails, or anything that could assist in making a beautiful piece of art, I encourage you to donate it to the library, where rather than being disposed of, it can take on new life. 

The Reuse Library is located on the first floor of the DePillars building on Broad St. If you take a left when you walk into the building you will find yourself at the sculpture lockers. The Reuse Library’s Instagram has a story highlight on how to find it from there!

I will leave you with a few tips to use while navigating the library: 

  • Green means go: The wood spray painted with green can be used in the sculpture woodshop (which VCUArts students can take training to access). Any used or damaged wood not approved for shop use can be used with hand tools outside, as it could have water damage or paint on it that makes it unsafe for shop use.
  • If you’d like to donate materials drop them in the processing bin, or even better find where they go within the library and sort the materials yourself! The space is 100% student-run so please try your best to keep the space tidy and organized!
  • If you don’t end up using a material, kindly return it to the library to give another student the chance to explore its creative potential! 

Graphics by Sydney Folsom