Alum Kelly Allen Taps Into the Power of Stuff with New Non-Profit Organization
As the world continues to rethink the way it produces and consumes, ‘stuff’ has become somewhat of a dirty word. One KCAD alum, however, is out to change that.
Kelly Allen (’08, MFA Drawing) recently joined the fray at local non-profit maker space The Geek Group with the Wisemaker Creative Reuse Store and Studio. As part of The Geek Group’s newly minted arts and crafts department, Wisemaker is essentially an arts and crafts thrift store that doubles as an open studio workspace. Allen has stocked her shelves full of various materials – some traditional art materials and some not – that have been donated by individuals and manufacturers. And whether it’s a tub of crayons or a bucket of aluminum washers, in Allen’s eyes, it’s creativity that counts.
“We’re contemporary artists who live in a contemporary world, and part of that is the inescapability of all of the trash and stuff that we have in our houses and in our lives – why not make those things art materials?” she said.
Wisemaker features tools and space aplenty
Allen is also an established fine artist who continues to exhibit right here in Grand Rapids at LaFontsee Galleries, as well as in places like London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. While she remains committed to her own art, there’s a certain joy she gets from sharing her processes with others and watching them activate their own creativity.
“It’s really fun and gratifying to see other people have a light bulb go off when they get something,” she said.
It was during an eight-year period living and working in California that Allen was exposed to the concept of creative reuse stores. She knew that she wanted to start her own if she ever returned to Grand Rapids, and when she moved back last year, she immediately started networking in order to make her dream a reality. When she finally crossed paths with The Geek Group, it was a natural fit.
(above): a sign inside Wisemaker proudly display's the store's motto; (below): scheduled workshops are a large part of what Wisemaker offers the local community
“I had no idea about [The Geek Group], and I was just blown away by how many tools are here for people to use,” Allen said. “I just really liked the whole model of things here, and the possibility and potential.”
Allen has also been making the right connections to secure materials, generating a healthy flow of donations from individuals and using her non-profit status to offer tax incentives to companies who donate scrap materials they can’t sell. As a result, her inventory is diverse and she’s able to price things at a very affordable and reasonable amount – a nickel, a penny, or in many cases, free - so anyone can buy something.
Materials are priced so that anyone and everyone can afford them
“I just want to let people know that they can use non-traditional art supplies and still make really compelling, exciting work that speaks to living in the world today,” she said.
Beyond exploring the possibility of alternative artistic materials, Allen wants to give people the means to run wild with their creativity. Wisemaker provides ample tools and space for Geek Group members (click here to learn how to become a member) to tinker with, including several large worktables, sewing machines, embroidery machines, paint, glue, and cutting tools, and outside materials and tools are also welcome. For those needing a bit of guidance, Allen offers weekly workshops that are designed to make the creative process more accessible.
“The response has been great,” Allen said. “Everybody’s been having a lot of fun feeling this freedom. There’s this satisfaction of having the OK to just play.”
Jewelry (above) and magnetic poetry (below) are among the diverse array of materials Wisemaker has available
And it’s not just younger audiences or established artists that Wisemaker caters to; Allen welcomes people of all ages and artistic skill levels into her world. Maker spaces like The Geek Group are becoming increasingly prevalent in Grand Rapids, adding another layer of accessibility to the city’s rapidly expanding creative culture. Allen sees Wisemaker as a way to make creating art more inclusive, organic, and meaningful, just as events like ArtPrize have done for art consumption. To her, it’s all part of the same conversation.
“People who say that they’re not creative are less likely to go into an art gallery than someone who feels some creativity in themselves,” Allen said. “So by letting them play with their creativity, maybe they’d be more likely to immerse themselves in the creative culture here.”
Connect with Wisemaker on Facebook to learn more and to stay up-to-date on the latest news and events.