A Successful Summer

I can’t believe that the summer is coming to a close – and with that, “Community Arts Organizations and Sustainable Practices: A Collaborative Model” ends its first phase. Dr. Theresa Lant and I worked on the project by studying the unique organization called Materials for the Arts (MFTA) (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcla/mfta/html/home/home.shtml). A small recap on the organization: MFTA collects and inventories unwanted materials and supplies from companies and individuals and makes them available for free to any not-for-profit arts or educational organization throughout the five boroughs of New York City. MFTA has a two-fold mission: to reduce the amount of material going to landfills, and to provide needed supplies to teachers, galleries, theater groups, and educational institutions.

My source materials for the research included the organization’s website for their mission and growth statistics, with several other links that provided other types of information about how this organization works. The organization has a rich history of continued growth, spanning from the founding in 1978 by Angela Fremont. After continuing the research, I discovered that several times the organization has gained significant media coverage – and the sustainability twist gained awareness (MSNBC reported its popularity in 2006; New York Times in 2001 and 2011). I also read about the types of projects with which the organization associates, who the key donors are, and how MFTA benefits the larger economics of the not-for-profit and artist world. The growth of the organization led them to move from the Chelsea Piers to a pre-gentrified Long Island City, Queens in 2000 for warehouse space.

During our exploration, we discovered concepts that are important to our understanding of MFTA. The organization’s hybrid operation lies under the auspices of the Department of Sanitation (appropriately linking to the sustainability factor), and a non-profit foundation, named Friends of MFTA. The foundation serves several functions, but importantly it keeps the operations separate from the government to speed decision-making and enable planning for the future as an economic business model.

With this exciting business structure in mind, we are interested in exploring how the MFTA affects its donor and recipient organizations. , We developed interview questions to investigate how MFTA benefits donors and recipients. From my readings, I found a fantastic New York Times article from 2011 that covered several customers’ perspectives on the organization, “For Schools, Free Art Supplies, and Much More.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/nyregion/01warehouse.html?_r=1&). Customers discover MFTA through other customers, because they want to reuse other organization’s materials (an incentive whose byproduct is sustainability).

Dr. Lant and I are excited to visit the warehouse storage location in Long Island City, Queens within the last stretch of the summer. We intend to interview Harriet Taub, the director of the organization and conclude our summer research. We also expect to use some quantitative data as well. We will conduct several interviews with “customers” of MFTA, and then develop a survey to distribute more broadly to the organization’s constituents. The questions we have developed thus far include:
• “How many times per year do you visit MFTA?”
• “How much do you recommend MFTA to other organizations?”
• “How has MFTA decreased your waste?”
• “How has MFTA increased your sustainability?”
• “How has MFTA helped you realize your organization’s mission, vision, and growth?”

As we conclude this summer’s research, my personal goals for the project are being met, thanks to Dr. Lant. We will continue to focus on applying my academic writing skills through analysis of the interviews, and I will learn survey development and analysis. I look forward to continuing to work on our research goals for the upcoming year!

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