Centre for Reusable Materials

Kunst-Stoffe - Germany

Kunst-Stoffe was founded in Berlin 2006 as the first used materials center in Germany and, indeed, continental Europe. It was initiated by Corinna Vosse and another community/artist [Frauke Hehl]. From small beginnings, it has grown into an non-profit organization employing around ten part-time staff members. Its mission is to promote the artistic, aesthetic and sociological exploration of reuse and second-hand culture. Along with this, it aims to find new reuse and upcycling applications and to promote material recovery across society as a whole. To do so, the organization maintains a large collection of used, discarded and surplus materials and makes them available as a sustainable resource. Furthermore, it provides equipped studio space, produces thematic events, and offers educational training in creative reuse and sustainable strategies.

A creative platform to promote social cooperation

To pursue this mission, and rather than becoming just an active "gleaner" in the city, Kunst-Stoffe collaborates with partners from the business sector who are willing to donate used materials, cutoffs, and rejects. Organizations and individuals also donate, but more importantly get involved in, re-appropriating such materials. However, Kunst-Stoffe needs to convey the right message to ensure a feasible collection of reusable raw materials. As Corinna explains, "we don't accept used clothes or home appliances such as computers, nor do we collect papers, since there are other people doing it already".

The centre opens its collection to the puplic 3 days a week, making materials available for purchase at a reasonable price. To encourage the dissemination of such "reuse culture", people in need may even receive free materials from the Centre.

To put the resources of Kunst-Stoffe to good use, it organizes different events and programs that address and promote "trash art". Target groups for its various services include artists, designers, community organizers, and people working in education. There are artist in residence programs in which artists and designers are invited to work and exhibit in the Centre. Staff liaise with community organizers and educators in the city to develop creative programs in parks, schools, and other public venues.

Self-supported financing

On its inception, public agents provided Kunst-Stoffe with various forms of support ranging from making space and facilities available for its operations to financing selected educational programs. However, public funding opportunities are becoming less prevalent in Berlin and Germany as a whole, and there is no strong tradition of private funding to compensate for this. Under these circumstances, cultural initiatives have to address and involve a variety of stakeholders to realize their cultural, social, and/or environmental objectives. This presents both opportunities and challenges: it opens up opportunities for support, funding, and collaboration. At the same time, it puts additional pressure on the organization: it needs to be constantly promoted by the public, to plan and execute additional projects on top of its regular business, and to develop better programs for outreach activities.

From the start, Kunst-Stoffe's strategic development has aimed both to mobilize needed resources via both fundraising and through inome earned from sales and services. In this sense, the organization is a social enterprise that pursues an ideational mission by adopting the following business strategies. Free materials collected are sold to individuals and education institutions at a negotiable profit margin. Prices are handled by experienced staff on a sliding scale based on the customer's liquidity. Other revenues include the rent received from leasing the studio facilities as well as income received from providing technical support and temporary storage space for artists and designers who work there. The Centre also organizes upcycling courses for children and teenagers for which the charges depend on the scale of the course and the manpower deployed.

Over the four and a half years it has been operating, the organization has accumulated specific knowledge on how and why usable materials are turned into garbage and about the conditions under which such materials can be reused. A publication has recently been released to make these experiences available to a wider audience and to spread the basic concept of upcycling via a used materials center. It is available for download.

Text abridged from: Corinna Vosse, From Trash to Treasure: Designing Upcycling Systems, December 2010, first edition, page 84 - 87, publisher: Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture Limited, Author: Community Museum Project, ISBN 978-988-98913-2-9