The Rapidian

Creative space Wisemaker celebrates collaboration of art, environment

"I want to take my mission here at Wisemaker to promote creativity and environmental sustainability out into the community and let other people really dig into that concept," says owner Kelly Allen.

/Courtesy of Wisemaker

Create with Wisemaker



I want to take my mission here at Wisemaker to promote creativity and environmental sustainability out into the community and let other people really dig into that

As an artist, Kelly Allen’s reverence for nature is not only depicted in the artwork she creates but in the materials she chooses and makes available to the community.  

Allen, owner of the Wisemaker Creative Reuse Store and Studio, noticed the hefty amount of art projects and materials being thrown out while in art school and trade shows. After moving back to Michigan from California, where she regularly shopped at creative reuse stores, she worked to open a reuse store and studio in Grand Rapids.

Wisemaker is located at The Geek Group, where people and organizations can donate used or unwanted art materials. It’s also a space for artists and amateurs to create independently or during workshop events.

Erin Conklin, a volunteer at Wisemaker, took an oil painting class taught by Allen at Kendall College of Art and Design. Conklin became interested after noticing a trend in art of using upcycled materials.

“It’s very inspiring to be in this space and with other creative people. You can’t get bored here,” Conklin says.

“Art is something that is our birthright. We are natural creators as human beings and unfortunately in our culture it’s not really recognized as such, but art is a very powerful experience for all people to engage in no matter how good you are, or how much innate talent you may have,” Allen says.

By diverting materials that would possibly end up in a landfill, she says, it allows her to actively protect the environment by using them for creative purposes.

In celebration of the collaboration of art and the environment, Allen formed the Art and Sustainability Parade to engage the community, local artists and students in making works of art ranging from floats to costumes.

Allen says she wants people to stretch their minds to see every day, discarded objects in a new way and feel good about bringing life to things that may have gone into the trash.

The parade will take place September 5 near the Grand Rapids Public Museum during the Mini Maker Faire downtown. There will be one run at noon and the finale at 4 p.m.

Included in the event are 10 teams of students who have been paired with local artists and donated materials from Wisemaker and the Goodwill.

Entries from community members for the parade are due August 30. For those looking to participate the online application can be found here. Projects need to be made up of 90% reclaimed materials.

Conklin is one of the lead artists of the parade and will be exhibiting a piece with her team to honor the memory of a close friend who recently passed away.

In the future, Allen would like to expand Wisemaker’s space and connect with local artists to help them utilize scrap materials and shift their practices to some that are more sustainable.

“We can obviously see the effects of our first world lifestyle on the nature around us and in the weather patterns,” Allen says. “We’re causing a lot of negative change to the planet right now so it’s more important than ever for us to do what we can to take care of the planet, reduce our carbon footprint and think in more ways that revolve around sustainable ways of living.”

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