It Isn’t Waste ‘Til We Waste It

By Laura Carter

Spare Parts Fine Arts Fair 3

“Imagine a place in San Antonio where waste inspires creativity…because it isn’t waste ’til we waste it,” reiterates Mary Elizabeth Cantú, Founder and Director of Spare Parts. As an organization whose mission includes–cultural and environmental sustainability; affordability and accessibility to the arts; community, education and creativity, green-style–Spare Parts engages the public with many possibilities to reach zero waste.

Over the past six years Spare Parts emerged as the leading resource for all things creatively reused or repurposed in San Antonio. After earning the national title of Master Reuser, Cantú is the City’s lone expert in the field. Spare Parts is in demand as a collaborator in an assortment of projects with educational and arts organizations. With their unique brand of hands-on activities, the Spare Parts team is a regular at many city-wide events including several hosted by SA2020.

The recent 6th Annual Fine Arts Fair at Wonderland of the Americas broke several records for Spare Parts.

  • 8,208 lbs of materials donated from individuals, businesses and organizations. That’s four tons diverted from our landfills.
  • Sixty-five unique volunteers worked approximately 200 hours sorting copious amounts of cool stuff from buttons and beads to office supplies to kites; plastic bottles to fabric and tile squares.
  • 151 educators, artists and others arrived with bags, boxes, wagons and suitcases ready to let their imagination be their guide.
  • Twenty area school districts and 22,302 students supplied with classroom materials.

Spare Parts Fine Arts FairOur exit survey included the question, “How do you plan to use these materials?” An art teacher from Our Lady of Perpetual Help explained how she paired a social studies lesson with creative reuse art projects. “Last year, we watched the movie “Roots” and afterward the students made characters from the movie, a slave ship and other props, all with reused or repurposed materials,” said Mary. “I plan to do something similar this year.” Another teacher from Martin Elementary said she sometimes used scrapbooking instead of a test. The materials she receives at Spare Parts represent a unique, cost effective and environmentally friendly resource. A first year registrant, Erik, an art teacher at Tafolla Middle School sees many possibilities with his ‘haul’ to foster creativity in his students.

The Mini Art Museum, a concept created by Cantú and Gabriela Santiago, won their 3rd Cammie award from Contemporary Art Month committee in 2016. The Fair debuted the new MAM exhibit from curator Richard Teitz. Teitz, a former director of the Alamo Mission in San Antonio chose his theme from thinking–What’s the most heard remark from people when they first see the Alamo?–“It’s so small!” Thus the theme. Do I remember the Alamo?

Spare Parts Mini Art Museum

In light of all these successes, the time is right for the next step—securing a permanent space for Spare Parts. “The demand for Spare Parts programming and need for pre-loved arts materials increases annually. We are a volunteer-led effort and it’s time we make the transition to a full-time resource for our education and creative community,” said Cantú. The goal is creating a place which would provide community retail and education center serving teachers, artists, creative families and supporters of reuse year-round.

“I strongly support your goal because, as a teacher, I appreciate the contributions to our educational needs. Our students deserve the best quality of education, and by providing free materials, you are helping teachers in accomplishing our goal of creating opportunities for our children to engage in activities that promote learning and higher order thinking,” wrote Martha Vargas a teacher at Highland Hills Elementary.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation towards the Spare Parts goal.

You can follow Spare Parts on Facebook, Twitter @sparepartsSA, and Instagram @sparepartssa.


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Laura Carter
Laura Carter is a writer, blogger, social media maven, and nonprofit advocate. A communications professional, she is currently working with Blessed Sacrament Academy on Mission Road helping develop their communications/fundraising programs. Laura serves on the Advisory Board of spare parts. In addition, she volunteered in previous years with TEDxSA View all posts by Laura Carter.