Materials for the Arts – Queens, New York - Atlas Obscura
Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

Queens, New York

Materials for the Arts

A New York warehouse filled with an enormous amount of goods saved from the landfills and donated for creative use.  

New York City’s biggest and best municipal reuse center collects a mind-boggling array of reusable materials and makes them available, at no cost, to nonprofits, public schools, and arts programs throughout the city.

Materials for the Arts, or MFTA, all began in 1978 with a young artist named Angela Fremont. At the time, Fremont was working for the Department of Cultural Affairs. When she heard the Children’s Zoo in Central Park was in need of a refrigerator to store medicine for its animals, she called a local radio show for help. An on-air appeal resulted in a swift and astonishing response, and the generosity on show gave her the idea for Materials for the Arts.

Over the next two decades, MFTA established partnerships with various city agencies and nonprofits, and began to receive funding from the Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling, which recognized the huge benefits of the initiative. By the early 2000s, it was operating from its current 35,000-square-foot warehouse in Long Island City, with a fleet of vehicles and an efficient and expansive donations system. And it all began with one woman and a phone.

The warehouse is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of artifacts. Over the years, it has received donations including crates of bra straps from Victoria’s Secret; hundreds of cans of Martha Stewart’s interior decorating paint; 50,000 donated buttons; holiday ornaments given by Macy’s; 87 lamps from the production of The Smurfs movie; and much, much more.

Sony was also a major donor in recent years, giving 166 tons of furniture, office supplies, lighting equipment and office plants when it moved its headquarters in 2015. So it’s easy to imagine why the The New York Times once described the MFTA warehouse as “Like a Kmart reimagined as Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”

Today, Materials for the Arts is a true bastion of creative reuse. Not only does it save a huge amount of perfectly good materials from ending up in landfills, it is also a huge boon for all of the cultural institutions (museums, theaters, galleries and so on), as well as nonprofits, public schools, teaching artists, and social service organizations that use and often rely on MFTA’s services. 

In 2016 alone, MFTA diverted 1.9 million pounds of quality goods from an ignominious end in landfill sites, instead redistributing them, free of charge, to worthy recipients. That same year, the redistributed donations had a total value of more than $10 million.

Know Before You Go

Shopping at MFTA is restricted to pre-approved members with appointments booked online. Donations can be dropped off Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. but must also be pre-approved.