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Perennial, 2019 RAC General Operating Support Grant Recipient

Skip the Landfill: How ‘Trash’ is Being Used to Promote Creativity

Perennial is teaching St. Louis how to reduce and reuse materials to create sustainability through discarded items, transforming them into valued and cherished resources.

Women work with colorful yarn and a loom over hot tea.

Class participants and instructors work together to create woven wall hangings with salvaged materials.

Since 2011, Perennial has been helping reshape ideas and perceptions of what is considered trash. In doing so, the St. Louis nonprofit has positioned itself as the main resource for residents who seek training on how to make new things out of old stuff. From amended clothing and bookbinding to woodworking and furniture made from recycled pallets, the socially conscious organization offers educational programming in creative reuse. It also sells handmade DIY kits and tools for reuse projects. Perennial is unique in that it not only offers free workshops and the use of its tools to the public but also operates a retail space that sells salvaged products at a cheaper rate than most craft and supply shops to encourage the utilization of reused materials.

Women work with wood and associated tools in a brightly lit workshop.

At Perennial’s community workshop classes, St. Louis residents are given access to space, tools, and creative reuse pros for a variety of projects.

Jenny Murphy, Perennial founder, community, artist, and educator, started the nonprofit to expand her talents in creative reuse and resourcefulness to reach a more diverse audience and to increase the impact of this important area of work. Her philosophy has helped educate and encourage the St. Louis community to discover ways to reuse objects, reduce waste, and live a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle through personal creativity.

“Not only are we attempting to create a shift in perception, but we’re also cultivating a different way of thinking towards resources,” said Murphy. “We take pride in being here when people are ready to take action. Whether it’s learning a new skill or just being a space where people can come and get messy with the tools they need to transform something and reuse it, Perennial has helped shape the community through making people more conscious of the products they are using.”

In 2018, Perennial helped divert 9,497 pounds of materials from local landfills. More than 8,800 people took part in Perennial’s creative reuse programs, tallying up a total of 7,298 hours of manual labor creating and upcycling across the community. In a survey conducted by Perennial, 75% of participants reported that after participating in a Perennial program, they used a salvaged or discarded item for a new project.

Many women together for a clothing swap.

Perennial’s clothing swap brings in community members to swap out unwanted clothing and take home “new-to-you” pieces.

Perennial, which received Program Support grants from the Regional Arts Commission from 2016 through 2018, recently qualified for RAC’s General Operating Support grant, which requires an organization to have a minimum operational expense budget of $150,000. From 2016 through 2018, RAC’s funding helped Perennial enhance its community programming and reach. During that time, the organization upgraded to a new facility and generated additional revenue streams to expand its staff and purchase new equipment. With its increased financial support, Perennial plans to further expand its focus on community arts for social change.

In addition to its public programming, Perennial works with social services and other local organizations to offer free weekly programs to at-risk populations, particularly focused on women who are transitioning out of the criminal justice system, victims of domestic violence, or those experiencing homelessness. Perennial’s programs offer these participants a positive and creative outlet to express themselves and a unique way to learn new skills and develop confidence in their ideas, abilities, and gifts.

Perennial has continued to improve and expand its hands-on classes, introducing new series such as Tools 101 and Zero-Waste workshops as well as the addition of an outdoor classroom. Through its programming, Perennial stretches its capacity by using donated and salvaged project supplies that would have otherwise been thrown away.

The organization’s vision for the future is to expand its reach to new audiences by offering more youth programming and adding partners to its Outreach Program. Perennial also hopes to bring its model to the national stage by creating digital resources, ensuring more people feel empowered to use their creativity and find new ways to reuse items and do their part to tackle sustainability.

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