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Art for all: How the Lex Center for Creative ReUse brings creatives together

There’s a theory within the world of sociology of the “third place:” that having a space dedicated to human interaction and familiarity is essential for democracy.  


Coined by the American sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book “The Great Good Place,” the third place refers to a space separate from the home and the workplace that fosters a sense of community, belonging and warmth, typically built on the foundation of a shared interest meant to develop genuine human connections. 


Since these spaces can be centered around any sort of common interest, there are a variety of environments which could be considered as third places so long as they function as community-building spaces: places like gyms, coffee shops and libraries. 


The city of Lexington, Kentucky, boasts a lively art community, from the myriad murals that are painted on the sides of buildings to the festivals and events dedicated to celebrating artistic expression, such as Art on the Town and the LexArts HOP.  


With so much creativity bouncing around the city, a type of third space dedicated to providing art enthusiasts with an environment where they can explore that side of themselves was bound to exist.  

For this purpose, the Lex Center for Creative ReUse (LCCR) was born. 


The LCCR is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2022 by Stacey Stone. Stone was introduced to the concept a decade ago when a friend explained to her what a creative reuse center was — an organization that collects donated or used materials and makes them available to the public for all sorts of creative projects, saving those materials from the landfill. 


“I thought, that is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard of,” Stone said.


Considering Stone's passions for sustainability and the arts, the idea of starting her own creative reuse center in Lexington was right up her alley. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Stone began planning the launch of the LCCR by doing extensive research and visiting other centers in different parts of the country to learn more about how they worked. Finally, in the fall of 2022, the Lex Center for Creative ReUse, located at 110 Luigart Court off North Limestone, opened to the public. 


The LCCR is a hub for artists and creatives to purchase donated, second-hand materials at significantly reduced prices, making engaging in art-related activities more accessible and sustainable. Perhaps more importantly, however, it’s a space for enjoyers of all kinds of art to come together and indulge in their passions among supporters. 


The location of the center was chosen with intention, Stone said.  


“Some creative reuse centers are in strip malls and do the standard kind of thing, and we didn’t really want that,” she said. “We wanted something that was accessible to people on the bus route, something that reached an underserved area of the city, and the closest place that sells art supplies around here is Walmart. There are no local art supply stores in the whole city anymore, so we knew Lexington would support this.” 


Sylvie Eckel, a sophomore environmental studies student at the University of Kentucky, discovered the LCCR in August 2022, only a few weeks after they moved from Louisville, Kentucky, to Lexington. 


“I was just browsing Google Maps for any sort of art shops, local places that I could check out, and it popped up and they just opened — it was very lucky that I was looking that day,” Eckel said. “And I was like, ‘Hey, I want to go check this out.’ So my parents drove me there.” 


Eckel began volunteering at the LCCR shortly after their initial visit. At first, they would just help Stone and other volunteers around the store whenever they needed help organizing large donations, which then snowballed into Eckel becoming a regular volunteer for the organization. 


To Eckel, that idea of a “third place” rings true about the LCCR. When the stress of being a college student begins to pile up, Eckel said they typically find comfort and ease in going to the center and being physically present in that space, even if it’s just rearranging balls of yarn or putting away buttons. 


“It's kind of the first third space I found in Lexington that felt like it particularly catered to my interests, and it feels very open to a lot of people,” they said. “So even if you're not into art, you can walk in there and probably find something you're interested in trying or looking at.” 


Stone said the main mission of the LCCR is to supply public school teachers with the resources they need for their classrooms. 


“If we have a teacher that reaches out to us and says, ‘I want to do this project with clay pots,’ or whatever material, we can collect them in our store or ask our social media people, and then we can provide them a material grant so that it doesn’t cost them anything,” Stone said. “Because I come from generations of teachers, and I know how expensive it is and how much of your own money you spend trying to keep your class going.” 


One public school educator who has benefited from the LCCR’s support is Marie Conger, the arts and humanities teacher at Tates Creek Middle School, where she has been teaching for 26 years. Though she said about 75% of her classroom materials are purchased using school funds, it’s difficult to be approved for additional funding for supplies and resources for special projects throughout the year.  


“When you're in a school that's Title I, and that means more than 45% are free and reduced lunch, you can’t ask for $10 or $15 for our class … and what happens is the kids that are able to pay, they end up paying actually for the others who can't pay,” Conger said. “So I stopped doing that a long time ago because I just felt like the school should be paying for it. The kids have a right to a free and appropriate public education, and if we have to keep adding fees on top of that to parents … I just didn't think it was necessary. So I just tried to get along with what I have.” 


Because of this, Conger turns to Stone and the LCCR for help. 


Every month, Stone will send out a newsletter that includes information about any new donations and materials the LCCR has collected, which Conger then uses as inspiration for future art projects for her students. After reading about a large donation of fake flowers and plants, Conger had the idea for her art club students to create flower crowns ahead of Earth Day and worked with Stone to help make it happen. 


Conger said she usually spends around $5-10 out of pocket every time she visits the center for materials. For the batch of fake flowers, Stone didn’t charge her anything. 


“I don’t know how she does it,” Conger said. 


Making arts-related programming more accessible and robust in public schools is crucial to supporting creative expression among the youth, according to Conger, which is why the LCCR’s services are so important. 


“The research shows that kids who are in arts programs excel in other places. We know that the arts is great for the brain, we know that arts is great for child development, we know all of those things,” Conger said. “... I think our superintendent and our Board of Education knows how important the arts are ... but that doesn't mean that they've got plenty of money for supplies, so we have to be creative. So having the Creative ReUse Center? Oh my gosh, that’s like an answer to what I have to have.” 


The LCCR’s extensive collection of all sorts of materials ensures that the use of its services isn’t only limited to art teachers and classes, Conger said. 


“I know science teachers here and language arts teachers who go there, and they get things for small projects for things that they want to do in addition to lessons they already have written, so it is definitely not an art teacher thing — it’s like for any teacher.” 


Alongside supporting public school educators, the other half of the LCCR’s primary mission is to make art more accessible to the general Lexington community by providing materials at an affordable price, which the center is able to do through the implementation of a sliding-scale payment system, allowing customers to pay whatever amount they feel most comfortable paying within a specific range, a significantly more cost-effective alternative to big-box retailers such as Michaels and Hobby Lobby.  


“I think creativity is kind of a human right,” said Renee Rigdon, the center’s volunteer coordinator. “You should have access to that, your soul needs that, and having a place where you can not only access those things in an affordable and responsible way, but having a place where you can build a community through the classes and our events, I mean, this town needed it.” 


The LCCR’s entire inventory has been donated by Lexington community members and includes supplies for virtually every type of art one could think of. 

Interested in jewelry making? There’s a diverse selection of beads and threads to peruse through. Want to get into fiber arts? An entire wall of yarn in every color and a collection of unfinished knitting projects are available for purchase. 

The way in which the LCCR is able to provide all kinds of art supplies across a wide range of mediums allows for more exploration among those who may only be just getting started with art and want to try different things to see what they like, Eckel said. 


“I think there's a lot of pressure, especially for art students, to choose the type of art you do and stick with it,” Eckel said. “But I think you are made a much better artist — and probably a more worldly person, you might say — just by having a bunch of new experiences and talking to a bunch of different people.” 


Sustainability is also at the core of the center’s mission, with everything in the store being given a second life and kept out of the landfill.  


“We have gathered over 40,000 pounds of things in the one and a half years that we’ve been open, and it is rapidly growing, because as more people find out about it, they’re like, ‘Oh, I have stuff,’ so it’s growing all the time,” Stone said. 


The Lex Center for Creative ReUse will also often invite teaching artists to host workshops and classes at the Center on various art mediums. Along with being the center’s volunteer coordinator, Rigdon regularly teaches needle-felting classes once a month, open to anyone who purchases a ticket through the LCCR’s website.  


“Anything that someone comes in and wants to learn, we have a teaching artist who can teach that,” Stone said. “Giving people a chance to learn and grow is amazing.” 


These classes give people the opportunity to try new forms of art and potentially discover new mediums they want to dive into more. Eckel said they once attended a stained glass class organized for the center’s volunteers, which they found they enjoyed. 


“I really enjoyed talking to people there and seeing what different ideas people had and all that kind of stuff,” Eckel said. 


Every Wednesday the center will also host a “Bring Your Own Craft Night,” which has helped with the cultivation of the LCCR’s community by bringing together a diverse group of people who all share a passion for being creative and are looking for a space to do that with no judgment.  


“There’s a core of people who have been coming for months, and they’re really close together, they enjoy spending time together,” Stone said. 


Possibly the best example of the third place concept coming into effect at the LCCR started at one of the “Bring Your Own Craft Nights,” when one of the attendees, a bride-to-be, expressed her intimidation about the process of finding a wedding dress. 


“It just happened that, maybe even six months before, someone had asked if I would accept a wedding dress for a donation, and generally we don’t do clothing,” Stone said.  


The LCCR accepted the dress as a donation, however, and it sat in storage for months until Stone pulled it out for the young bride-to-be. She tried it on, and — almost as if it were fated to be — the dress fit her perfectly, and in an act of kindness, the entire “Bring Your Own Craft Night” group pooled their money together to buy the dress for her. 


“For a lot of people, we’re becoming a third place where they can come, show us their work they’re creating, they can come to our Bring Your Own Craft Nights, and we accept everyone regardless of financial status, of ability to pay, of gender identity,” Stone said. “We get such a diverse group of people coming here.” 


Though it’s only been open for a year and a half, the LCCR provides Lexington with an opportunity to explore its creative side more and to pursue new artistic endeavors in ways that may not have been possible before. 


“We thrive on welcoming people and encouraging everyone on their own creative journey, so it’s a lot of fun to be here every single day and see how art is changing lives and how people are creating,” Stone said. 


Stone is an artist herself, specializing in making three-dimensional creations using all kinds of upcycled materials. For example, she has used a donation of vintage film slides to create unique lampshades and a miniature tree made out of old Barbie dolls. She displays these creations around the store, along with other upcycled projects, to encourage the store’s visitors to tap into their own creativity. 


“I believe that everyone has the potential to create art and to be an artist,” she said. “I want everyone who leaves, whether they buy something or not, to feel a bit of inspiration and to look at things in a slightly different way.”


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