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How an Art Supply Thrift Store is Supporting Creative Reuse

How an Art Supply Thrift Store is Supporting Creative Reuse

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In a neighborhood of downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, is a quaint store that will leave many artists in awe. The resale shop, Indigo Hippo, is full of colorful and eclectic art supplies that, donated by folks who no longer needed them, are waiting for their new forever home. With drawing materials, papers, paints and pieces begging to be part of an assemblage, it kind of feels like a candy store, for artists.

Below, Alisha Budkie, Indigo Hippo’s executive director, and Emily Farison, director of materials, share how the store is on a mission to make art accessible to everyone.

Community Need and Creative Reuse

Two and a half years ago, we began trying to approach mental and emotional health in a way that wasn’t stigmatizing. All paths led to creativity as an amicable way to normalize differences.

For this to be possible, it felt right to create a safe space built around community that would allow the necessary creative materials to be more accessible. Creative reuse is active in more than 140 U.S. cities. We were able to implement this proven model based on the needs of our community.

In 2009, as Alisha was graduating from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) and starting Crafty Supermarket with Grace Dobush, she saw a strong need within our creative community for another resource for art materials.

The materials we use to express ourselves become as meaningful as the artistic practices themselves. Alisha opened a design and art supply shop in Over the Rhine (Cincinnati) to serve the local students and artists, focusing on materials and tools that were well made in the U.S. But this concept wasn’t sustainable long term. Art supplies that were made by eco-conscious, small businesses weren’t affordable for many artists, teachers and especially students.

Six years later, Indigo Hippo is in the same space Alisha originally renovated and opened, but with a resource that the community is really connecting with and using.

It’s All About the People

Every day we see art students, community organizers, teachers, artists, crafters, youth from our own community and just about everyone else. Some familiar faces visit multiple times a week to see what new materials have been donated. We love learning about the art they’re making and hearing about their lives.

We’ve been very fortunate that word of mouth has spread quickly and we still see new faces coming in every day. Other relationships have developed through our monthly gallery shows and our support of many local community groups and organizations.

What Kinds of Art Supplies Get Donated?

We’re constantly surprised by the donations that come through our door. Some of the larger items have been really interesting — 19th-century doors, an inkle loom, a standing antique sewing machine. Incredible things show up daily, such as beautiful copper bits, laser cut wood scraps, coffee beans, seashells and feathers. Other common donations include paints of all kinds, frames, screen printing tools and inks, spray paint, canvases and all sorts of interesting papers and yarns.

Art Supplies Coming Full Circle

Our community is awesome, and people often tag us on our Instagram with pictures that highlight work made from materials they’ve found at our shop. When we’re extra lucky, people bring their artwork into the store and show us in person. Also, the work in our gallery shows has often been made using materials from the shop.

Opening an Art Thrift Store in Your Neighborhood

Want to start your own thrifty art store? Rest assured you will get material donations! For us, that seemed like the hardest part of the process to trust. We’re still blown away by the amount and quality of the donations we receive daily. And listen to what your community needs.

There are so many different ways to do creative reuse — find the way that’s right for you and your city, and just go for it. People visit us from all over and from every life path because they connect with how valuable it is to make creativity accessible and keep usable materials out of the waste stream.

Pay What You Can

We now run our store as a “pay what you can” system. This decision came from a lot of observation and thought. While many people who visited us at the shop were quite surprised at how affordable our prices were, and even ended up donating a few extra dollars, there were others who were still stretching or weren’t able to get the materials they needed.

Two dollars means something different to everyone, and we’re really inspired by the new conversations in our storefront around value. Rather than putting a price tag on something and telling our customers what it’s worth, we would like to give our customers the opportunity to determine that value on their own.

Surprises from the Pay-What-You-Can Model

We’re continually amazed by how generous people are. There’s a strong desire in the community for these good art materials to stay out of the waste stream and be used by someone else. We’re stunned at how deeply people connect with this resource and how grateful they are for its existence.

And we are hopeful and surprised by how well the pay-what-you-can model is going. Our store traffic has increased, and we’re able to get more materials into the hands of those that need them regardless of their life circumstances.

As we were researching this concept to apply it to our own store, we were asked, “Can you pay a little more so someone else can pay a little less?” It’s inspiring to see individuals really understand that and be so generous as a result.

On Donating Art Supplies

If someone can use an art supply to be creative, we accept it as a donation. Anything from traditional art supplies to weird creative materials: paint, ink, sketchbooks, canvases, pens and markers, paper, yarn, wood and metal scraps, sewing notions, fabric, beads, frames, tiles, ribbon, books, office supplies, natural bits like pinecones and seashells.

When in doubt, bring it in. There are very few things we turn down. If we find we can’t use something in our space, we will resource/re-donate/recycle it, so that pressure isn’t on our customer.

Since we’re a nonprofit, all donations are tax-deductible, and you can drop off a donation anytime we are open. Currently, Indigo Hippo is open Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, from noon to 6 p.m.

Beyond Art Supplies: Visual Arts Programming for the Community

Through creativity, we’re able to increase our impact through partners that see the same need and share our vision to remove the stigma around mental and emotional differences. This past year, we provided creative arts programming for Camp Joy, Clovernook Center for the Blind Visually Impaired and MORTAR.

Our curriculum addresses social and emotional growth, builds resilience and grit, and strengthens participants’ sense of self and confidence. We’ll continue working with all of these organizations and will begin developing and implementing the creative arts programming for seven additional organizations.

You can stay up to date on the latest happenings at Indigo Hippo by visiting the store’s website,

Watch the video: The Art of Reuse - Interim (August 2022).