Upcycle Parts Shop is a nonprofit art supply shop in Cleveland’s St. Clair neighborhood that sells low-cost materials donated by those who don’t want to see them become trash. That’s the literal description of this unassuming organization, but it drastically undersells the impact Upcycle Parts Shop has on the Cleveland community. Through their commitment to upcycled art, they keep tons of waste out of landfills. And through their community programs, they bring Cleveland residents together to better their neighborhoods.

Art-Full Ideas

In 2011, Nicole McGee was working as a reuse artist, but she envisioned a way to do more. Trained as a community organizer, she saw Cleveland’s emerging reuse economy as an opportunity to both provide low-income people with accessible creative outlets and to revitalize struggling neighborhoods.

McGee partnered with the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to the revitalization of the St. Clair Superior neighborhood, to solidify plans for an upcycling shop that would be actively involved in community development. Eventually, they were awarded a grant, and in July of 2014 Upcycle Parts Shop opened its doors.

Crafters holding up notebooks made at an Upcycle Parts shop event.

Upcycling for the Environment

Today, the shop sells a vast array of low-cost art and craft materials comprised of “junk”—from fabric scraps to plastic bottles to industrial leftovers—donated by individuals and businesses throughout the city. In fact, the shop receives so many donations that they don’t have to solicit. “People are generous,” McGee explains. “Most people want their things to be shared because they know it can have a second life; it doesn’t have to be trash.”

The shop regularly receives donations from local businesses such as Jak Prints (off-cuts), Dorn Color (leather scraps), 4Walls (vinyl wall coverings) and the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District (items that can’t be recycled in the city). They’ve even received donations of excess office supplies from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Thanks to this enthusiastic response, in just two and a half years Upcycle Parts Shop has saved 14 tons of material from the landfill.

Materials at Upcycle Parts Shop

Beyond Environmental Benefits

Upcycle Parts Shop’s work benefits people as much as the environment. Boasting a small team of seven part-time staffers plus a few seasonal support artists, they offered artistic opportunities to 5,800 budding artists last year alone. They’ve mobilized community members to clean up and beautify vacant properties, they hold open craft demos at the shop as well as at various community events and schedule programming with numerous local organizations. In the fall of 2016 they also began providing supplemental upcycling art education to area schools.

The idea behind all of this is to inspire people to take a more active role in their community’s future by involving them in beautifying and enriching it. McGee says this process works on multiple levels. First, there’s just something powerful about making something with your own hands. On another level, community art projects bring together people who might never have interacted otherwise. As McGee puts it, “You might have the CEO and the person who delivers the mail working together to make something.” One event called “Crafting With Cops” gave Cleveland teens and law enforcement a much-needed opportunity to interact positively with each other.

Finally, creating upcycled art can broaden people’s outlook. “If you can see value in a used plastic bottle, what else has value?”

Volunteers beautifying an abandoned building.

Ready to Join Cleveland’s Upcycling Scene?

You can visit Upcycle Parts Shop at 6419 St. Clair Avenue, on the third Saturday of every month. You can even join their Membership Program, which nets you store credit, discounts, plus a “personal shopper” who will set aside your most-wished for supplies for you. Or, you can get your feet wet by attending one of their upcoming events. There’s no telling who you’ll meet, what you’ll create—or how it will change your point of view.

3 smiling young men at an Upcycle Parts Shop event.

Budget Dumpster is your community-focused source for a dumpster rental in Cleveland. This article is part of a series spotlighting organizations that make a difference in the communities we serve. If you know of another great organization, let us know in the comments!

All images via Upcycle Parts Shops.