CMA Stories

“Art is a great tool to expand the lens you use to see and experience the world, yourself, and others” — 5 Minutes With RepurposeU

In the spirit of CMA’s new exhibition, Home Sweet Home: Is a Home a Sanctuary?, we are hosting a special reading and sock-making workshop with RepurposeU on Thursday, December 19. Founders Bettina Harriman and Jaclyn Harte will from read their book, How Mischief Changed the World, at 4pm. All day long, visitors can participate in a sock design workshop, with all socks being donated to Trinity Place Shelter, whose mission is to help homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer youth and young adults in New York City to safely transition out of the shelter system and grow into independent, positive, and productive adults.

Learn more about this inclusive resource for kids and get to know the founders below!

CMA: Hi Bettina and Jaclyn! Can you introduce yourselves and tell us about RepurposeU?

Hi! We’re the creative team behind RepurposeU.

Everyone asks us where we got our name. We were thinking a lot about the concept of repurposing and how you can make art out of everyday materials and how odd objects can come together and make new creations and be reconfigured in cool and interesting ways. How this process can let you see something you’ve seen a million times in a brand new way. And then we thought: don’t we use that same approach on ourselves everyday, too? We make meaning of experiences in our lives and transform challenges into something new and better all the time.

And Boom! RepurposeU.

So in that spirit we started to use our years of teaching, making art, and connecting with others to create fun and engaging books and resources for kids. We especially wanted to share the social emotional tools we have gained as kids who felt different with kids who feel different too.

CMA: How Mischief Changed the World is an adorable story about an unconventional hero, Mischief, who doesn’t feel like the other students at school — they identify as a sock! How did this story come to be?

BH: We had applied for an equity alliance sponsorship with Scout Books, who make these awesome pocket-sized books. The sponsorship was originally meant for our first book, a social-emotional learning workbook but months past and we ended up producing it ourselves. Then one night I was taking a shower and this story just came to me, so I wrote it down in my phone (after I got out of the shower). Two days later we ended up getting the sponsorship!

As to the story itself — it’s based on my relationship with my nanny when I was a kid. Growing up I was very myself, which meant I didn’t seem to fit in other categories that I saw. I didn’t grow up with language for that so I used art and clothes as a means of self-expression. I especially loved socks. I chose the name Mischief for myself because I’ve always been good at getting into trouble. I chose the name Milagros (which means miracles) for the other character in the story because growing up, it has felt like a miracle to be really seen and loved for who I am by my nanny. The story is about finding home and I wanted to celebrate our relationship, because it has always felt like home to me.

CMA: How does art have the power to connect and support communities? Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

JH: I think that when we grow up in adverse situations, our first instinct is to feel alone. Like we’re the only people on the planet who ever went through this thing. And kids feel so responsible for the things that happen around them. I wouldn’t have made it out of where I came from were it not for the characters in the stories I loved, who showed me that I was never alone, that magical things were possible, and gave me something outside of myself and my home to completely relate to.

Art is a space of no wrong answers. Nothing is right or wrong. It teaches us how to be compassionate for another person, another story, another life. It helps all of us to see, that we’re all just humans doing our best. A work in progress.

CMA: What advice do you have for parents who want to address a serious social or political issue with their children? Is there a way to use art to facilitate these conversations?

BH: Of course. The most important advice you can give to a child is to be true to themselves and to find ways to imagine and explore what that means. Art is a great tool to expand the lens you use to see and experience the world, yourself, and others. It’s an awesome gift you can give to a child that they can use as a compass for their whole life.

JH: You don’t have to be comfortable with a subject in order to talk about. Do it, even if it’s uncomfortable, and let your child see that you don’t need to have all the answers before you ask a question. You can participate in anything so long as you do so with compassion and respect.

CMA: Complete the sentence: “Home is __”

BH: Wherever I go. Something that lives inside of me that is my key to belonging wherever I go. That feeling in my stomach of landing.

JH: Meatballs. I didn’t have a warm upbringing, but I get to find warmth and comfort and ritual in other places, in different traditions, with friends or even strangers, and by creating my own alternative ways to celebrate. I say meatballs though because I’m obsessed with foods I think a grandmother would make, and meatballs are my favorite thing for that.

CMA: Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

JH: At my second grade poetry slam I chose to read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Nothing relaxed me more than that poem did. I knew just what it meant to tell yourself the bird is gone when your heart knows it never left. That’s so dark! But it’s true, and it’s just to say that it was my first experience of knowing that someone else had felt just like me, so I couldn’t be alone. It was also my first clue that reading Borges confirmed for me later, that all experience, everything that we are dealt, is merely clay that we get to create with.

BH: Drawing seemed like a way of being in the world. No one sat me down to do it, I was always just drawing. But the most momentous drawing I did as a kid was for kindergarten career day. I drew a picture of Teen Wolf. It was the first real moment of recognizing my identity out loud. My teacher told my parents that day that I was an artist, so she had recognized something about me, too.

Learn more about RepurposeU at repurposeu.com

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