Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Using Materials for the (Theater) Arts

Contributed by Kevin Stirnweis

Representatives from Third Rail Projects pose with their treasures during one trip to the warehouse.

When the Innovative Theatre Foundation asked Materials for the Arts to write a guest blog on how companies can green their production, I was delighted because there is one easy, fun, and actually self-serving way that companies can do this: use MFTA services! Founded in 1978, MFTA is a program of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs that collects unneeded but useful supplies from businesses and individuals and distributes them free of charge to its recipients. These recipients are public schools, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations that provide significant arts programming for the five boroughs. This means that if your theater company is a registered nonprofit, or sponsored by a nonprofit, it is eligible to become an MFTA recipient. That's right: your production company just needs to apply to have access to the wonderful, free supplies at MFTA.
There are two primary methods through which MFTA distributes its supplies. The first is through our 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Long Island City. Recipients set up appointments online and visit our space to find the many wonders it holds. Our trucks go out every day to collect lightly used items from around the City, so the stock is always changing. We have had unique items such as police hats, five-foot-high Styrofoam seahorses, and a mechanical bull, as well as conventional items such as theater lights, curtains, rolls of fabric, mannequins, and chairs.
If you are unable to come to the warehouse, or if you are looking for larger items that we cannot hold in the warehouse, we offer an online donations system where recipients coordinate directly with donors around the five boroughs. Here you can find theater flats, pianos, large set pieces, and more. Through our services, we have supplies to stock your office as well your prop room.
After you are done with these items, the best option is to save them for a future production. MFTA is all about reuse, so the more use you get out of an item, the better. If there is no way you can store the six rolls of fabric, five couches, and thirty mannequins you took from us for a production, you can always donate them back so another organization can use these items.
If your organization is interested in donating to MFTA, you can list items on the online directory, mail items, drop them off, or request a free pickup. Greening a production does not happen just when gathering the needed supplies, but also when trying to find a home for the now unneeded items. If you are interested in making a donation, you can find more information here.
Whether a recipient or donor, you can find inspiration for reuse at our on-site exhibition space, as well as on our blog. Recipient theater companies like Immigrants' Theater Project have shared their past projects using MFTA supplies, as have theaters in New York City's public schools, such as at the High School of Art and Design with their production of Dracula. The work and dedication of MFTA recipients and donors alike is remarkable. I have never met people more committed to reuse in the arts than the folks surrounding MFTA. And we're always looking to expand our community.
Kevin Stirnweis is the Communications Specialist at Materials for the Arts. When he is not blogging about the wonders of MFTA, he can be found on the MFTA Twitter and Facebook. Come say hello.

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