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A quick Snap with Arts and Scraps

35 years of making art in Detroit more affordable, Arts and Scraps centers the community by providing reused materials and educational resources to promote sustainability and creativity in Detroit. We interviewed the current Director of Arts and Scraps Ang. Her stories follows winding path that decorates her unique view on the Non-profit space and Detroit.




Dean:

Good afternoon Ang. Of course, you are the current Director of Arts and scraps. Do you mind just giving me a little introduction, so the audience knows you better?

Ang:

OK, I'm and I've been really my background is working with kids. I've been working with kids since I was one. Really. And. I always thought that I was going to become a teacher and went to college to become a teacher and very quickly my college had a class where they basically like convinced us with whether we should or shouldn't be part of. The bureaucracy that is working in a school, and I quickly figured out that I was not cut out for that. And so I kind of decided that nonprofits would be my route, and I was at Ohio Northern for my undergrad in English and then got an associates in business after that to actually to kind of give myself a business background a little bit and. Worked for the United Methodist Church, doing youth and adult services throughout the state of Michigan. 1st and when I went to change over to nonprofits in the city, no one saw that work as nonprofit work because it was in a church, which I thought was interesting. And so, I ended up going from being an associate director level. At my job within the United Methodist Church, to taking five part time jobs. Teaching working with students all over the city, which was really fun and also challenging and did that for about a year and a half and landed at some really wonderful nonprofits. One of which was Arts and Scraps and. Throughout, that learned so much met so many people, and so in so many ways ended up very, very thankful for that. Time and when I started ours with scraps, I was an instructor and then fairly quickly you moved over to working with our volunteers in the warehouse and then became the warehouse manager, which was arts and Crafts's first full-time job. Actually, we've never had a full-time person before then, that was 2015. And from there I ended up becoming the associate director and then, for better or worse, the Executive director. I think part of the reason I like telling this story is it's kind of a very different path than is probably normal. To being in leadership. And I always joke like that I accidentally became an executive director. But I do feel like a lot of people do that, like especially people like you that, you know, just have a mission in their heart and go for it, you know, have that boldness. But I wasn't even a founder. So. Anyway, I always think it's good to kind of know those weird different paths. You can walk and the real reason I ended up walking this path. Is. I've always had a passion for education equity. When I was a kid, I was that weird kid that would read the newspaper in the morning and one morning on the top part, above the fold, as they call it, was a story about how a school in Troy was getting a new state-of-the-art. Football stadium and they were so excited about all the, you know, capabilities, they would have a so they'd be using their current football stadium as their practice football stadium. And then on the flip side, on the bottom of the page was the story about how classrooms in Detroit didn't have books. And my 10-year-old mind was just absolutely boggled by. The fact that I knew where those two places were, and they were very close to each other and there could be such a discrepancy in these two places, and how children would be experiencing education. So anyway, at a very young age, they became very passionate about the fact that. The ZIP code that you were born into, how that could totally change your experience of education, which doesn't determine everything, but definitely determines, you know the access that you have, the resources that you have to kind of go forward in life so. That's that. Did I miss anything?

Dean:

Definitely a great start hearing about your foundation and how. You took a nonlinear path into getting to your role. It wasn't like something that you were like. Yeah, you know what? This is what I'm going to do. It was just more of a. Well, this has to be done and, oh that has to be done and now you're here.

Ang:

Yes, that's actually a very good way to say it. This has to be done and so now

I'm doing it. How a lot of things have happened. Like, but I will say. You know, I've been trained in leaders like. Most of my life I've been in like leadership positions a lot as youth, like youth development organizations were a huge part of my growing up years. And so, you know, that had always kind of been on the back burner. But I always was like the vice president. UMI was always somebody's number two. I was never. You know the like. You know, I was more the associate director position than the executive director position and there's still parts of me that you know maybe fall back on that prefer that but sometimes yeah. You do have to kind of just rise to the occasion and say this is. What is needed? And learn your way into the next thing. I would say that is probably one of my like biggest talents is learning my way into things which in all honesty all of us are doing at all times, like the CEO of the biggest corporation all the way down to, you know, the lowliest of the low of us. Whoever we are, you know, we really are all like just learning as. We. Go if nothing else, because the world is always changing around us so.

Dean:

Yeah, it's, it's funny how that works. And you know I. I can't tell you how like. Interesting your story is and how fun it is to see that. Not just how the linear path happened, but how those small steps that. Happened when you were. A child just the few works that you had led into who you have become as. No, and I think that leads to our next question because just as you have a founding, so does your organization of a founding as well. And I want to learn a little bit more about how Arts and Scraps started.

Ang:

So, Arts and Scraps was started by a woman named Peg Upmeyer and she had already been a teacher for many years. And had always been passionate about the environment. But in 1989 that was still like a pretty young conversation. Was very much ahead of the curve in. That. Way and her and her husband moved to Detroit for a job for her husband's job. He was working for Ford, and they discovered that, you know, working in plants and things like that, that there was so much waste, that there were so many things that were kind of like. Falling off the assembly line and just being thrown. Way and she kind of had the forethought to say like, oh, I could use that in the classroom and so could other teachers. And I bet you there's more materials that could be used. And so, she just started talking to companies about what their garbage was, whether it was, you know, part of an assembly line or an off print or a misprint or. You know, these are all terms that exist now, but like, they didn't even really think about these things back then. And so, she actually started Arts and Scraps as just the community store and really started it as a store, a resource for. Features and what we quickly learned was that if we could hit the benchmark of being a resource for teachers, everyone else could be served. Whether it was, you know, small business owners or artists or nonprofit leaders or families, you know everyone else. Girl Scout Boy Scout troop leaders. You know, they could kind of slot in underneath that because teachers have so many restrictions on them that, you know, being able to hit that mark. Everyone else could be served. So, when she started the store. Because she'd already been a teacher, people started to ask her to, like, match up some curriculum with the stuff. These weird objects from who knows where. And so, she started to write curriculum for them, and I think they actually started with birthday parties and really started it was like, a small fundraiser, but. Very quickly our programming became more and more popular, and we were teaching in schools, in nonprofits, and the way that Peg liked to write our curriculum was she would actually ask teachers on every single evaluation that we did. What is the hardest thing for you to Teach? And that's what she would write our curriculum around, and nine times out of 10 it would be STEM science, technology, engineering and math, because most teachers are around 70% of teachers in the elementary school setting are certified in English and social studies. Most of them are not as familiar with STEM and so kind of on accident. She kind of ended up in this STEM realm. But this is 1995. This is way before STEM was a thing like this was. A phrase that people are using, but she just kind of fell into this realm and started teaching these projects. So anyway. Over the years, they added ways for us to go out to the community and suddenly we're teaching 80 to 90% of our programs in the community and over the time they started the scrap mobile program, and we were using more and more and more material because we were. Letting the kids that we were serving out in the Community experience what shopping in the store is like, you know, we started doing interactive stations and we were doing over 100 events a year where we take, you know these recycled materials and let kids just absolutely go wild with their creativity and imagination. And you know in 2019, before the pandemic, you know, we had over 350 programs across the city and region, which was kind of amazing and also kind of wild. Because in 2014 we also started doing extended programming. We started being asked for, you know, we love having Arts and Scraps for one class, but can you do more? Can you do an 8-week class? Can you do a 12-week class? Can you come to our school? Can you come to our nonprofit and kind of get deeper with this curriculum? And so. We started doing extended programs at just a few schools to begin with, kind of pilot programs with grants, and because it was so successful it grew. And so, at that same time, our extended programming started. Grow. So anyway, really and truly, the founding Marks and scraps is a very, very, very innovative person who is a like, way beyond her time. You know, thinking forward about what the needs were for the world and for the Community, and then how she could partner with the community to make those things happen. That's really become the DNA of arts and scraps. How do we come alongside the community? Listen to what those needs are, whether it's for curriculum or for materials or for programming, and make those things happen to make the earth a little bit greener and our community stronger. That's how our transcript started.

Dean:

Yeah, that's an innovative mission. It was, I mean, of course, your life has been in a nonlinear path, but this has this was too. From simply just going to solving a need, just one need, that's recycle. To all of a sudden creating programming, partnering with other foundations getting grants. That's doing something that not only bolsters education, but also solves problems when it comes to recycling, helping the planet and young minds. I don't see an easy way of coming out.

Ang:

Well, I think the real path is listening and truly one of the things peg used to say all the time is if we aren't listening to our community, we will cease to exist. Which is so genius, and also so poignant, like listening to the community and knowing what the need is, is the only way that a nonprofit really can survive and not just survive. But like there's no reason to exist if you're not doing that. Because you exist for the community, so if you're not listening to what the community needs, then what are you doing? And I think that that's hard for a lot of nonprofits to hear sometimes, but it it's definitely true for Arts and Scraps. I've seen it be true for others. The other thing that I often tell our staff and board is that if we're not living our mission into everything that we do, wherever it's missing is where we're going to have problems. And truly like, part of why I love Arts and Scraps ended up in Arts and Scraps and still in Arts and Scraps after over 10 years, is that you know the mission and values of Arts and Scraps align so well with me as a person. The same is true of our staff that end up staying with us. Because you know that passion for the mission has to be there in order for us to do what we do in order for us, for us to continue to listen to our community. It's really, really easy to be like, oh, yeah, well, this is what I want to do and so that's what we're going to do. But like the community is not going to come along with you if you do it that way. Finding those ways to make sure that you're, you know, really listening, really making decisions by your values and your mission. You know, that's why Arts and Scraps is in its 35th year of existence, because we've really done that well.

Dean:

You know when you're talking about listening. I want to double back to something that you said earlier. Your founder started off with listening to teachers on developing programs. How do you guys use that same model into developing, not just your programming, but into expanding on the mission that Arts and Scraps has.

Ang:

Yeah, that's a great question. You know, there's two main kinds of places that we find our community and talk with them and listen to them. One is in our Detroit Community store, and we work with about 7000 people a year in that space. So, there's so much opportunity for us to hear from that community, right? Like we're just standing with them at the cash register. Every day our wonderful, wonderful staff are so good about talk to them about how Arts and Scraps is thinking about doing XYZ. You know what do you think about that? Or would that serve your community or whatever? And the 2nd is within our programs not only talking to the teachers or other nonprofit leaders we're working with, but even the students themselves. And of course, you know, we're listening to national trends and you know those kinds of things, but really that hyper local feedback is what really matters. I'll give you an example. The board had a few opportunities on the horizon and decided to set this amazing goal. Really ambitious, really caring, really well-intentioned goal, and it was to raise a certain amount of money. It was $100,000 and made the Detroit Community store free. For a year, and we were really excited about this goal. We thought, you know, our community is going to be so excited that we're going to be able to be a free resource. We're going to be able to give away so much more stuff, get so much more stuff for used, you know, anyway. And so, we decided to go to the community and like, let's just like see. What? What? What they think maybe get some videos of people being excited about it because we thought, oh, clearly they're going to be thrilled, right? You know, free, that everyone loves free, right? Well, we went to our community and unilaterally. Like unanimously, they just were like, no, we don't want that. They were like, we don't want that. you're already really inexpensive. You're already really accessible. You're going to run out of stuff. Your staff are going to be overtaxed, we love the staff. We don't want that to happen to them. We want you to have more funding, but like get more funding and do more things. Don't just make the store free. The store is so accessible already that we want you to have that money and the $100,000 like it was. It was wild. I mean, and we really took a step back and said, OK, if this is what our community is telling us. Then shut it down. Absolutely shut it down. And we did. We completely changed our campaign midway through because we received this feedback and went another direction with it and. Our community was like happy that we did, and it was a little bit scary and now, you know, I've had to have conversations with donors and foundations, and oh, what happened with that? My answer is we listened to our community and some of them get that and some of them don't. But I always say like. The ones that don't get it, that's OK. They don't have to donate to us because they obviously don't align with our mission and our values. So, it's not always easy. It's not always sunshine and rainbows. And we wrote the best curriculum. But it's important because if we had done that, there's a lot of our community that would have been. Really. Upset and they're probably right, we probably wouldn't have, you know, served them in the way that they needed to be served. We would have been going in a totally different direction and now we're able to listen to them and really, we listen to them, and they said what we really want. Is drop INS for kids on Thursday afternoons or Saturdays or something. So now we've shifted and we're kind of trying to find the funding for those pieces instead. So anyway, just a small example of. Really. Just it's one of those things that sounds so complicated. How do you listen to your community, how you it's just talk. Talking to people. Sometimes it can be surveys and things like that, but honestly, you're only going to hear from a portion of your population if you do a survey. It really is like, you know. Getting down to that, like grassroots on the street level and just talking to folks which you know, we have maybe unique access to with our situation, but that doesn't mean. That. Everybody can't do it. You know, you have your own ways within your own space and mission that you can do that.

Dean:

Yeah. And that's so like when you think of help, especially in the nonprofit field. Showers. They have free healthcare; they have free classes to learn trade. They have free this. They have free that. But sometimes there is such a thing as overhead. When you make everything free and there's no sense of reward for.

What you're doing? It no longer becomes worth having if all the scraps that you have are free, and I could just go. In and get them. And there it no longer serves as much as a purpose. Not only that, I feel like I'm taking a lot away from you and it seems like your community. And if they love you for what you do, they're going to.

Ang:

Well, and it no longer feels like you're working in community together, right? It's, now we're giving you the stuff for free. Not like you're part of it, the Arts and Scraps community. Because you came and spent your money here, and that seems like such a small change, but it's important to this community. You know, almost every single person that buys something in arts and scraps, even as inexpensive as we are, often almost always they donate. They donate their change, or they donate money. On top of that, you know, some people will come, and their bill will be $3 and they'll slap down 20. You know they really believe in our mission, participate in our mission. It's a participatory thing. It really doesn't work without thousands and thousands of people all coming together and doing their small part. So, everyone, everyone you know. There's this guy named Louie that comes every day we're open. He spends literally $0.25, but he is a deep part of our community all the way to the biggest foundation that we get donate, you know, get grants from, they're all included in that community. And recognizing that realizing that has helped us be a stronger organization that can serve our community in deeper, better ways.

Dean:

Wow. It's really inspirational. And I feel like you've had a great change in the community with. What you do because. Offering a service that wasn't there before, and especially with the physical location. I could understand just starting on a nonprofit. You're working. It's hard to get things off the ground. You believe in your mission, but people are telling you they don't understand what you're talking about. Making that shift into actually not only making them understand what you're doing but start to defend the idea is a hard thing to do. You have to change the way how they see you, to change the mindset and also create a lasting.

And I want to know what are some of the lasting impacts that you've created that you you've really been able to see at your time working with artists?

Ang:

Sure. I would say one of them is really aligning our mission, our vision and our values with our community. I think we've worked really, really hard over that with that over the last 10 years, not just you know, our strategic plan and our business plan and those pieces. But like our staff and our board. Looks like our community and you know the way that we're setting up our programs, the way that we're writing our curriculum is in alignment with our community. You know, all these different pieces that really chip away at, I mean at least. Especially in Detroit, there's so much that divides us, whether it's. You know wealth or race or ethnicity or, you know, all these different pieces. And in order to really come together and make an impact, you have to break those barriers down and create that community space within our store that you know, community space. Within our programs where people feel safe to be themselves, that's the only way that you can get to creativity. Are you kidding me? You can't get creative if you're not even feeling safe. And so, we've really not that we weren't doing that before. But I think that we're now doing it at such a deeper level that's creating deeper impact and on the store side, that deeper impact looks like we have twice as many people coming. We have twice as many people coming now than we did in 2016. And on the program side, you know being able to be. In doing extended programming now where we're in these deeper relationships with these nonprofit leaders as well as with the students that we're serving, you know, we're working with some of these kids all year long for multiple years. That is a totally different thing. Saying then seeing a kid once for an hour and there's value in seeing a kid once for an hour, you can absolutely make an impact within that space, but being able to have this extended time with these students and see their problem solving and critical thinking grow see the way that they are seeing the world change. You know, showing them that they can be leaders in their community, that they can solve problems in their own community, you know, that has deep, deep impact on a student. In fact, that's you know what for. To me, were people saying OK, you see that there's this issue where, you know, schools in Detroit don't have books, let's do something about it. You know, my 10-year-old self did a little book drive and sent it over to the Detroit Public Schools. Who knows what they did with it. But like, you know that. Not only showed me that I as an individual could make a difference, that I as an individual could help problem solve, but you know it showed me that I could be a leader, that I could make a difference and all those pieces are part of the programming that we're doing in the community. And I think it's maybe even more impactful that we're doing it in the community for the community they're living in, right? That they're exactly where they are. We'll see that difference because I think, you know, one of the things that is hard about environmentalism is it's hard to think about the scale of it. Right, like, because I'm using these reuse materials. Maybe the snow capsule melts less quickly. Like that is. So big to try and think about, but if a kid understands that like anything can be reused, then they start to see the things that are going on in their community differently, right? A kid could see, you know, dumping happening and. Understand what dumping is and understand what can happen to solve that issue in their exact community, illegal dumping, or, you know, even just like, what? What could I do with my chip bag instead of putting it? You know in the garbage if they're doing it right or on the playground, right, and understanding the effect that those things can have on the world, but also what they could be doing about it, what could they literally, we've had kids that are like now I understand that garbage, you know, does negative things to the world. Now, I understand that this chip. Egg could ruin something. I'm going to do something with my bag. Maybe I become an entrepreneur like you know, there's just all these cool stories of kids really taking it to the next level. And I tell our instructor, I mean, we all say all the time. They're like kids. Have ideas that are 100 times cooler than anything will ever come up with. Like really and truly, but seeing it in real time, whether we're talking about the universe as wide as like, you know, forming a new planet or you know, things like that, or all the way down to like, how do we? Participate in helping our planet, right? Or how do we participate in helping our community at all those different levels and seeing those students go from? You know, maybe not having those skills, maybe not having as strong of communication skills or teamwork skills, problem solving, critical thinking, and then after eight weeks, like see such a difference within them. And then the next eight weeks they come back and see such a difference within them, right? It's really amazing to be able to watch them grow like that and honestly, that's the impact to me like arts and crafts. We have a saying where we say we don't make art because a lot of people think Arts and Scraps would make art out of. Scripps, we don't make art, we make artists and designers and critical thinkers, and you know, the world's next generation of world changers so. That's my hope that we're leaning harder and harder into that statement.

Dean:

Alright, you have I think you've given me a whole lot to write about so far, but I have two last questions that I really want to ask you before we even dip off into anything else. But that is brilliant. Just we don't make our make ours and you can think of how impactful that is.

Like. Just making art. You are able to create something that everybody else can see, right? Creating artists. You're. Making an impact on the people who create things for everybody else, which is a much broader range than just using.

So, my first question for you is, do you have any exciting upcoming news for us, anything that we should know about in the coming week, month or anything like that? That. That you would like to share that? You should be going on. Let's say we publish this on the 1st of April. Do you have anything going on in April? Then we should know.

Ang:

Yeah, April is Earth month and for Earth month, we're actually doing a donor drive to find as many new monthly donors as we can. And monthly donors really sustain our work because that becomes, you know. The funds that help us run the organization as a whole, you had alluded to like you have overhead to run an organization and our monthly donors really make sure that we can, you know, have lights and pay rent and things like that. They really make such a huge difference in how the organization is able to run, because then when other funds come in, though, they can be focused on those programmatic initiatives. The other exciting thing that we have coming up is because it is our 35th year Arts and Scraps is going to be having a big old party in September, so I know that's a ways away. It’s September 14th and it will be at the Country Club of Detroit, Arts and Scraps is going to be having our 35th anniversary. So y'all are the 1st to be invited. Hopefully that's exciting. But it should be a good night. We've already got some like YouTube influencers coming and some people from the news and our wonderful board members and our committee are really putting together a really wonderful night to celebrate 35 years of service. But also, you know, talk deeply about our mission and where we're going from here because we've got some really, really big goals for where we're going to be able to serve the community next, our big two goals that are driving us for the next kind of three to five years are serving as many people within the Detroit community store as we possibly can and we're going to have some programmatic initiatives that go along with that. We're going to be doing creative coworking on Fridays, which is really excited that just got fun and we're still trying to fund those drop INS on Thursdays and or Saturdays. But then the second goal is to have our extended programming in every single neighborhood in Detroit, and we're slated to be in 20 neighborhoods by this summer. But we're hoping to be in 30 to 40. Neighborhoods year round in the next three to five years, so we'll be kind of utilizing that fundraiser to seed fund 7 new sites across the city. So that's our exciting stuff that. We have going on.

Dean:

Yeah, that's definitely something I. Could afford to.

All right. And on to our last question. What would you tell an organization or company that is looking to start a sustainable journey, similar to your own or just in the field of sustainability? What would you tell them to do to start?

Ang:

That's OK. That's a great question. The thing that kind of maybe sounds obvious, but I think is the most important thing is to really define your mission, vision and values so that you really can make decisions based on those. There are so many times where you have to make hard decisions and having those is your guiding light will really help you. The second thing I would say is to think deeply about your revenue sources as well as your expenses. I mean, we're always thinking about expenses, but thinking about how you can have a set of revenue sources that's really going to set you up for success so that you know if one foundation falls through or one donor falls through like life happens, those things are going to happen. So, if you know, if you have one donor or whatever, that's like 70% of your budget. You're no longer going to exist and so really making sure that you're thinking really intelligently about what your revenue sources are and diversifying them as much as you can. You know, part of the reason that arts and crafts have weathered so many storms over 35 years is. We have thousands of people shopping in the store. Hundreds of people were doing programs with, you know, probably 10 to 15 different foundations that we're getting small to large grants from. And so even if something fell through, we were able to make it through because we had so many other sources that we were able to find. Funding and support through. And within that one big lesson we've learned about grants is if we get a grant, especially if it's a programmatic grant, making sure that we have built it so that by the end of that grant, we have replaced that grant with other funds plus some. So like if we get a $40,000 grant, that's one year. That our goal is usually to utilize that grant to leverage it, whether it's storytelling or evaluation or whatever it is and reaching out to other revenue sources because even if that grant comes back great, we'd love to grow. But you know often with program grants that it could be a one-time thing. So, we want to make sure that we utilize and leverage that. Grant to grow by at least 40,000, but we try and do like 60,000 so that not only are you sustaining your current level of services, but you're able to grow your impact over.

So those I think would be my biggest. Pieces of advice for someone just starting out because it's really easy to. Like. Rely on grants and then you get 1 grant and then you don't get it the next year and you're like oh gosh. How am I? How am I going to do what I need to do now that this one thing has gone away? I think it's a trap that's really easy to fall into and it's actually trap Arts and Scraps fell into in it's early, early years, which is why we have that ethos.

 

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