Since SCRaP Billings was founded in the fall of 2015, it has made some major moves — conceptually and physically.
In November 2016 the creative-reuse store and arts-education hub moved from South 29th Street into a two-story, 21,000-square-feet brick warehouse at Montana Avenue and North 18th Street. Barely a month ago, it started leasing a second building, a block away, the SCRaP Creative Annex, with 6,000 square feet, at 1702 First Ave. N.
From its beginnings as an in-house arts center and crafts store, it has expanded into a multipurpose organization that works with dozens of other groups to promote the arts, arts education, entrepreneurship and creativity.
“I had no idea at the time where this was all going,” said Tammy Zemliska, a founder of SCRaP Billings and now its director. “But it has become way bigger than I had anticipated. And I tend to think big.”
So, what exactly is SCRaP? For starters, the name stands for Share, Create, Reuse and Promote, and its mission statement is “To keep art accessible and affordable for all.”
Beyond that, it is a nonprofit organization that accepts donations of virtually any kind of arts and crafts supplies, which it then makes available for free or at an affordable price to artists, craftspeople, students and entrepreneurs.
At the two-story building on Montana Avenue, after renovations are complete and city permits are secured, it will have a store selling arts and crafts supplies on the ground floor and it will lease studio spaces for artists of all kinds on the second floor. At the Creative Annex on First Avenue North, it has opened the Magic City Makerspace, where artists and craftspeople can gather for collaboration or instruction, using shared equipment and affordable supplies.
There are already programs for people interested in pottery, stained glass, sewing, mosaics, needlework, framing, painting, jewelry, upholstery, woodworking and 3D printing.
Next week, on Friday, Feb. 9, SCRaP will be doing something new — hosting a poetry workshop led by Lowell Jaeger, who will then present a Montana Humanities program that evening titled “The Art of Meaningful Conversation: Let’s Talk About What’s Important.” (See sidebar story below for details.)
Even what we have said so far hardly begins to suggest the range of activities, programs and partnerships SCRaP is involved in.
In the words of David McCauley, head of marketing and development for the organization, “The one thing we get accused of is, ‘You guys don’t have any focus.'”
They cheerfully plead guilty to the charge and then go back to making plans for new projects, innovations and programs.
When SCRaP started, it was affiliated with SCRAP USA, which has a similar, if somewhat more limited focus. SCRaP Billings has since earned nonprofit status and is a standalone organization run by a local board of three directors and a group of eight advisers.
SCRaP has partnered with local organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, all of which it worked with to provide summer art programs. It has pilot programs in Sandstone and Broadwater elementary schools, where it offers creative classes where students in kindergarten through third grade are given arts materials and encouragement, but very little traditional instruction, hoping they will use their innate creativity instead.
They are also working on prototypes for “makers carts,” which will be loaded with arts, crafts and scientific supplies and wheeled from classroom to classroom in partner schools. Part of SCRaP’s mission is to promote STEAM, by incorporating the arts into STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — programs.
SCRaP has also worked on projects with the Zonta Club, the Billings Community Foundation, 4-H Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, RiverStone Health, Family Tree, Child Bridge and Wise Wonders Children’s Museum, among other organizations.
“We’re trying to work with as many of them as possible so we don’t duplicate services, but enhance them,” Zemliska said.
At the Creative Annex, they have quietly amassed tools, machinery and equipment, including a glass-crushing apparatus acquired through a grant by the Rocky Mountain College Enactus team, the school’s student-run business club, which is working to establish a glass recycling business that would also provide jobs and skill training for people in need.
Besides supporting artists, SCRaP is also helping entrepreneurs by organizing meet-ups, and it soon hopes to offer business incubators and shared-office-space opportunities.
The annex also has an arts and crafts room for kids, which has been used by Youth Dynamics, and a gallery that will have an art exhibit up for this Friday’s season-ending Winter ArtWalk.
The key to the whole enterprise, Zemliska said, is remaining open to suggestions from the people SCRaP is trying to serve.
“It needs to come from the community,” she said. “What do they want?”
McCauley said the sharing of talents and ideas is important for individuals and for the larger community. So many crafts and technological skills are known only by elderly people, he said, and if they don’t teach their skills to the next generation, they might be lost.
On a larger level, he said, the SCRaP model could work for communities dealing with economic dislocation. At incubators and shared-space offices, he said, people with ideas for new industry or re-use of old industry can get together to plan and dream with like-minded people.
“We believe it starts here with this Makerspace thing, this SCRaP thing, this community thing,” he said.
Poetry workshop, community conversation
Zemliska decided to ask Lowell Jaeger to make a presentation at SCRaP after hearing him at a Montana Artrepreneur Program gathering in November last fall.
Jaeger is the current Montana poet laureate and is the Humanities Division chair at Flathead Valley Community College, where he has taught writing classes for the past 30 years. He is also a national trainer of discussion facilitators for the Center for Civic Reflection, an organization that promotes civil civic discourse.
For his free presentation on Friday, Feb. 9, at the SCRaP Creative Annex, Jaeger will use the poem “Mending Wall” to generate a lively, thoughtful conversation about topics important to people’s everyday lives, while demonstrating the value of honoring diverse perspectives.
Zemliska said she is not ordinarily all that interested in poetry, but the presentation in Helena floored her.
“He is just really a cool guy,” she said of Jaeger. “He is so Montana and so down to earth. I said, ‘You have to come to Billings.'”
The event will run from 7 to 9 p.m. and will also feature Billings authors Denise Johnson and Rachel Jones.
On the same day, from 4 to 6 p.m., Jaeger will lead a poetry workshop at the Creative Annex. He asks that participants bring a copy of a poem they’ve written. For more information, call 670-5566.
Zemliska said having a poetry workshop at SCRaP fits the mission.
“Writing is just another form of art,” she said. “We’re open to all kinds of art.”
For more on SCRaP, visit its Facebook page.