Arts from Scraps

What would you do with 28 tons of unwanted bits of foam, string, paper and other industrial leftovers?

Forget the trash heap. At Arts & Scraps on the East Side, Peg Upmeyer and her crew use other people's scraps to teach kids creativity — and the three Rs (those being reduce, reuse, recycle).

In 1989, Upmeyer, a longtime high school speech and English teacher, and two colleagues formed Arts & Scraps. The idea was to become a resource for teachers and organizations working with youth.

"Unique items get unique thoughts," Upmeyer says, "kids need to have rules changed now and then."

Whether on field trips, birthday parties or rainy day visits, kids can come to the studio on Harper near East English Village and purchase items by the bagful or a la carte. They then create all manner of art projects with their scraps. The group also offers "scrap packs," inexpensive, complete craft packages for teachers.

Arts & Scraps was started in a spare room at a nearby church, but through entrepreneurial spirit, the 9-year-old organization has grown into bigger headquarters and has a broader reach. It now serves about 275,000 kids in 55 communities in Southeast Michigan in a year; yet it continues to be a fixture in its East English Village community.

Location, location, location

Arts & Scraps became in need of a new home when First Lutheran Church closed its doors in the mid-1990s. The group tried out several East Side locations before settling into their current digs on Harper off I-94.

At one time, Upmeyer says, they had considered moving into Detroit's Midtown neighborhood to be in the middle of the cultural center, but Arts & Scraps stayed on the East Side because they had an established relationship with East English Village, historically home to working class families, city police officers and firefighters, as well as artists and musicians.

The group now leases three buildings within walking distance of each other – a small warehouse, a garage, and a two-story structure decorated with mosaics of youth at play that serves as the organization's store, offices, and workshop/teaching area.

Over the years, Arts & Scraps' programs have diversified. In addition to supplying educators with prepackaged recycled materials and lesson plans (select projects meet state education standards and benchmarks), Arts & Scraps now offers customized projects on- and off-site, as well as parent and parent-child workshops, teacher training, and group leader training. Though the bulk of Arts and Scraps' work is in schools, they also work special events, festivals and parties.

Spreading out

In 2005, Arts & Scraps received a $100,000 grant from the health benefits company Humana that has given the group a wide reach. In 2006, they were able to serve 20,000 more children than in previous years.

They brought in The ScrapMobile, a 26-foot store on wheels that houses brightly colored bins filled with such odds and ends as pine cones and foam shapes that kids purchase for pennies during on-board "shopping" trips, selecting materials for themselves, friends and family members, as well as for school projects.

The ScrapMobile has also improved the organization's entrepreneurial opportunities. Fees garnered for bringing the vehicle to events or school visits have made Arts & Scraps more financially independent.

Even so, Upmeyer runs the organization on, well, scraps.

"We pay beans," Upmeyer says, "so all our staff have other jobs." Personnel include a doctoral candidate in curriculum development, art and recreational therapists, and former art and elementary school teachers.

Volunteers and donors keep the work alive. Over 500 volunteers in 18 area groups comprise Arts & Scraps' Very Special Volunteers, logging more than 9,000 hours annually.

Their efforts help kids in the community and the region experience art firsthand — not a small thing considering how budget cuts have effected arts programming of all kinds.

Arts & Scraps, however, defines itself as not so much an arts organization as an educational service. The group neither applies for arts funding nor makes it a point to contract artists to conduct programs. "We design experiences and the kids produce the art," Upmeyer says. "It's a way of jump-starting kids' ideas so they can do critical thinking and innovating of their own."

Arts and Scraps' annual fundraiser is at 6:30 p.m., Feb. 10, at The Parade Company warehouse on Mt. Elliott near Hamtramck. Highlights include a strolling dinner of carnival foods, a live auction and a dessert auction, Dragonmead Microbrewery samples, a cash bar, tours of The Parade Co. and The ScrapMobile. There also will be pictures with Parade Company costumes, arts activities, and a "Survivor-type" course with teams. Tickets are $30 in advance, ($35 at the door).

For tickets or more information about the organization, call 313.640.4411, or go to

Photos of Arts and Scraps Copyright Dave Krieger

Signup for Email Alerts