One Long Island City group is changing the lives of educators throughout the city and teaching them that every object — whether it is a poster or an outdated cellphone case — has a second life.
The organizers behind Materials for the Arts (MFTA), located at 33-00 Northern Blvd., want to spread the word about their mission to as many teachers and other educators throughout the five boroughs as possible.
Operated by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, with support from the Department of Sanitation and Department of Education, MFTA offers a warehouse filled with donations from businesses big and small including Bloomingdale’s, World Vision, Saks Fifth Avenue and the Van Gogh Museum.
The site is open to educators in the New York City school system to come in, grab a shopping cart and shop — for free.
“If you can get it out the door, you can have it,” said Kwame Belle, communications coordinator for MFTA.
The 25,000-square-foot warehouse has everything from paper of all sizes to trims and fabrics, arts and crafts, toys, small props, household and small appliances, computer chairs, tables, chalkboards, computers, printers, binders, books and magazines and much more.
At the entrance of every aisle, teachers are met with displays showing ideas on how to turn items, such as a poster, into bigger projects.
Belle says that teachers can stock up for an entire school year or even come back on a “week-to-week basis.”
Along with being open weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays for teachers to raid the aisles, MFTA holds an annual Back-to-School “Shopping” Spree. On Thursday, Aug. 27, shopping will be reserved for more than 60 underperforming schools from all around the city that have been invited to come and shop for free. During the sprees, three teachers will hit the warehouse floor at time, with music in the background, and look for items. There will also be booths and workshops set up to give teachers direction and expand on what can be made with certain items.
However, MFTA doesn’t just stop at providing free stuff. The group has taken it a step further with providing professional development classes for teachers where they learn how to turn items they can find in the warehouse into engaging projects for all subjects.
“We feel the access for teachers is really important. It helps the bottom line and it helps them be more resourceful in their classroom,” said Harriet Taub, MFTA executive director. “But having the knowledge, taking our classes, that really makes them become much more confident and self-assured in how they can utilize their materials.”
Along with field trips, in-school residencies and public programs such as exhibitions and workshops open to the public, MFTA also offers DOE staff members seasonal P-Credit courses during six Saturdays throughout the year.
The next course, which will begin Sept. 19, will teach educators how to use recycled items to create musical instruments that can be used not just in art, but in math, science and literary courses.
“We connect the dots for teachers in terms of how these materials are actually essential for them to fill the Common Core requirements,” said John Kaiser, director of education at MFTA. “These are supplies not just for art, but for the art of learning, for project-based learning.”
Both Kaiser and Taub believe that the experience teachers and students have through MFTA goes beyond the warehouse and allows students, who often deal with financial hardships, to actually get a taste of the art world and access their creativity.
They added that learning to reuse common day items, which might not seem like much at first, will prepare children for the real world as they learn to be resourceful.
“By having teachers come here and taking readily available materials and bring them to their classrooms, it allows students to think about their own resources,” Taub said. “It gives you the opportunity to say, ‘I am the power behind my creativity.’”
For more information, visit materialsforthearts.org or call 718-729-3001.