“This [garage gallery] doesn’t really transcend its ‘garage-ness’.” –Keith, when we went to a gallery in a garage this one time.
Those words were sort of reverberating in my head when I took a trip to Chicago this past weekend. It was a strange weekend for me. I oscillated back and forth for about 4 months about the decision to attend an environmentalist march on Saturday in Minneapolis. I attempted to arrange a bus from Milwaukee to Minneapolis. It didn’t work out. I was disappointed, but also sort of relieved, because I knew it would have been an exhausting day. However, when I woke up that morning I had that familiar feeling in my gut telling me to “get out and do something.” Since I couldn’t go to Minneapolis, I drove to the only place I could think of that made sense for a spontaneous day trip.
When I got to Chicago the inner city traffic was terrible, so I parked my car (filled with half of my wardrobe and belongings since I am currently in between apartments) on a side street in Humboldt Park. I walked a mile and a half to get to the place I had in mind, which was a small store that I had been following on Instagram called The Wasteshed. The store’s mission is to sell donated art supplies at a highly discounted rate. I was interested in seeing the store because I have recently been noticing how unaffordable art supplies are, and thinking that Milwaukee could use a store like this (particularly after the tragic closing of Artist and Display). I wanted to analyze the store to see how this idea was being executed.
The store was awesome. I cannot stress this enough. I ended up with a bag of goodies for only five bucks. They had everything an artist could want: colored pencils, water colors, canvases, yarn, ribbon, markers, brushes, sketchbooks, frames, wrapping paper, and MORE, all donated from various artistic institutions around the city. The highly discounted price was not a lie; a watercolor set purchased from a regular art supplies store probably costs a minimum of $8.00. At the Wasteshed you could buy a slightly used set for only $0.50! It was as if I had just discovered Savers and the Fox Valley Thrift Shoppe all over again.
I ended up chatting a bit with the girl who was working the register. I asked her how the heck this store could even exist if the prices were so cheap. “That’s a good question,” she said in earnest. I found out that the store basically functions as a nonprofit, with most of its support coming from grants and donations. There is only one paid staff member; the rest are volunteers. You can read more about how the store came into existence here.
While I think the idea of operating a nonprofit, recycled art supplies store is awesome, I thought that a bit more effort could have been put into making the store look a little bit less like a nonprofit, recycled art supplies store. Even the name of the shop needs take itself a bit more seriously. It felt a bit more like a junk shop or a last-minute rummage sale. This isn’t a critique for the sake of criticism. It’s more of a “tough love” kind of thing. It is unclear whether the bare bones presentation of the store is due to the fact that it is so new, or if this is just the vibe that it is going for. If the latter is the case, I think it would be in the best interest of the store to present itself as a developing non-profit that caters to all types of customers rather than a junk shop that is catering to the poorest of the poor college student. Art supplies are expensive. Period. Any person or artist at any level could pop into the store looking for some colored pencils or bubble wrap.
The rest of the day continued the trajectory of weirdness. After the Wasteshed I was feeling tired and had pretty much resigned to go home when my friend Alli and boyfriend Evan pulled up in their car right next to me. They had no idea I was in town, and I was not even close to where they live. I hopped in their car and they abducted me.
I spent the rest of the day wandering with Alli, looking at other store window displays and merchandising. I anticipated the coming week when I would be starting a new job doing exactly what I had just criticized: taking a whole crapload of stuff and turning it into something nice to look at.