Industry Star of the Month

Harriet Taub, Material for the Arts

Harriet Taub December 1, 2010 - Where else but Material for the Arts could a red hot tub find a second life? Now in its 32nd year, MFTA, part of the Department of Cultural Affairs, is a creative reuse center, which accepts donated items that can be reused by art-based organizations. Executive director Harriet Taub and her staff work with numerous organizations to ensure that thousands of items stay out of the dumpsters and end up in an art class instead.

“Film, TV, theatre, commercial productions have supported us for years,” said Taub. Productions often know about MFTA through word of mouth, from people who move from show to show or prop masters who hate to throw things away. Last year, MFTA collected 650 tons of materials, worth $7 million dollars, that were then reused by its members.

Those members range from not-for-profit dance and theatre companies to art therapy departments at hospitals and senior centers. Public school teachers and government agencies can also be members. Members are able to come to the warehouse on ‘shopping days’ and pick up what they need for their not-for-profit productions or classrooms. “We call it a shopping day, even though everything is free,” said Taub. With 4,300 active members, some of which come in every other week for materials, a steady supply from donors is always needed.

“We’re so happy to work with film and TV productions,” said Taub, adding that it’s helpful for MFTA to be part of the planning process. With a little forethought, productions are able to schedule pick-ups or drop-off times with Materials for the Arts, and if there’s something MFTA can’t take because it’s too small or too big, they’ll work with their members to see if they can find someone who can use the items.

“It’s cheaper for productions to drop off their items with us than to hire a dumpster,” she said.

New items are always coming in. “We pretty much take everything, things that are in good condition, reusable,” said Taub. The only items they won’t take accept are dangerous chemicals and weapons. They blog about what they’ve gotten in and post news to Facebook and Twitter, using technology to advance their outreach.

Taub’s favorite part of her job is seeing ‘the match,’ when a teacher or someone from one of the not-for-profit theatres finds just the item they need. Taub is often invited to see productions that make use of items from MFTA’s warehouse. At times, she’ll attend a production where 90% of the items on stage are from the warehouse.

“Some organizations tell us they would not be able to open their doors without our stuff,” she said. As part of the process, members also send thank-you notes to donors, letting them how their items were put to use.

A former art teacher, Taub is also proud of MFTA’s education programs that have started during her tenure, such as workshops that help art teachers learn how to turn these alternative items into art supplies.

“We’re a small and dedicated staff, and it works because we have a good team,” said Taub. “It’s all about supporting the arts.”

Industry Star

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