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Clever Octopus: Making Art and Keeping Everyday Items Out of the Landfill

By SLCgreen intern Atticus Olmedo

Welcome to SLCgreen Connections, an occasional series highlighting SLCgreen’s fantastic local partners—the people and organizations with whom we work closely to make Salt Lake City a greener, more vibrant, and sustainable city!

It has been a busy summer for the Clever Octopus Creative Reuse Center. The creative reuse center is one of Salt Lake City’s e2 Businesses, a program dedicated to helping Salt Lake’s business community be more economically- and environmentally-sustainable. And Clever Octopus is passionate about sustainability. With multiple summer camps, including Sculpting the Future: Art to Save Utah with Goldman Sachs, and even more classes throughout the summer, the creative reuse center helps divert waste, support the community, and foster creativity and environmental awareness through art.

Indeed, Clever Octopus has expanded its programming from a thrift store for art supplies to a fully-fledged creative reuse center providing educational opportunities for students of all ages and skill levels across Salt Lake Valley.

SLCgreen recently met with members of Clever Octopus’ team, Lin Huang, Kacy Huston, Jen Lopez and David Sadler, to talk about their work making art sustainable and accessible.

Clever Octopus Creative Reuse Center

Clever Octopus

At Clever Octopus, everything is reusable: playing cards, cloth, working laptops, vintage items, jewelry, glass canning jars with lids, corks, glue bottles, aprons, smocks, ribbons, scrapping supplies – the list of what can be reused to make art is nearly endless! The organization aims to reduce the amount of waste in our landfills and make craft supplies more affordable. Art material sells at 50%-90% off retail price, and supplies that would otherwise have gone to waste get a new life.  

Lin, Clever Octopus’ program coordinator who recently delivered a TEDx presentation in Ogden, explained the importance of creative reuse:

Creative reuse keeps materials inside the loop and invites everyone to work together in harmony to celebrate offcuts, oddities, found objects, and the magic and mystery that arrive via chance. I strive to redefine everyday objects as materials for artmaking and work to share this idea. Salt Lake City is a fast-growing community with a very young population – opportunity and need for reshaping how we think about waste is critical. With harmful environmental effects of inversion clearly seen for Salt Lake Valley residents each day, we need to invest in solutions for all of us. Creative Reuse is one of the solutions.

Like any thrift store, Clever Octopus is a shopping adventure. And at Clever Octopus, you’ll find the craft items you never knew you needed!

Clever Octopus explains that the name of the organization was inspired by the intelligence and problem solving skills of an octopus. They can use tools, escape from jars, and mimic their surroundings. Like octopuses, clever artists can use bits and pieces to create new (and sustainable!) art.

Clever Octopus Creative Reuse Center
Have you ever tried to get all your school supplies second-hand? Clever Octopus can help!

Diverting Waste with Art

According to the Clever Octopus 2018 annual report, the organization diverted 22,007 pounds of waste from the landfill, which is equivalent to 8,803 pairs of shoes. They also welcomed 308 volunteers, which equated to 5,498 hours of service; hosted 1,807 events that served 17,670 people; and peeled 40 pounds of crayons!

The organization hosts on-site workshops for all ages throughout the year. This summer, classes ranged from leaf wall-hanging, relief print workshop, and a mandala-making workshop. 

Clever Octopus is also famous for its Octopod mobile outreach vehicle. It is a fully equipped mobile classroom, stocked with a wide-range of materials for creative inquiry and staffed by Clever Octopus’ artists. The Octopod hosts classes throughout the Salt Lake Valley and beyond, visiting schools, adult care facilities, residential treatment centers, community outreach programs, community festivals, and private events.

Sculpting the Future: Art to Save Utah 2019 Summer Project
Creative Reuse poster from 2019 Sculpting the Future: Art to Save Utah summer program with Goldman Sachs.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Make Art!

Always think twice before throwing something away. Artistic endeavors and crafts do not always have to be harmful to the planet or cost a fortune. Clever Octopus demonstrates that sustainable art is possible, and in many circumstances, more creative.

Clever Octopus is on the cutting edge of sustainable art. Only recently have the fields of fine arts and sustainability merged at American universities. The artists, creators, and educators at the creative reuse center see that everything is connected; artistic expression and responsible stewardship are not incompatible.

Clever Octopus offers free weekly library classes, a full line-up of which can be found here. Other workshops are offered on-site regularly.

Want to help support Clever Octopus? You can donate used art supplies and materials. Please refer to the website’s complete list of accepted materials. Even if you don’t have old art supplies, you can support Clever Octopus by volunteering in marketing, grantwriting, or teaching areas, as well as helping out with sorting in their warehouse.

Have an art project in mind already? Visit Clever Octopus at 4973 State Street Murray, UT.

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