Where do old paperclips, pipe fittings, and popsicle sticks go to retire? If they’re lucky, they’ll find their way to Tacoma’s Tinkertopia, a new “creative reuse center” tucked amid restaurants, museums, and shops alongside the University of Washington Tacoma campus.
Married founders Darcy and R.R. Anderson, a preschool art teacher and political cartoonist, created Tinkertopia to provide alternative art supplies for “artists and inventors” by rescuing everyday objects from the waste stream and reimagining them as creative fodder.
“We want people to see that the stuff we throw away might have another life,” says Darcy. “Somebody’s trash could be someone else's genius. It’s amazing to see what kids will do with cardboard strips and milk caps.”
Since Tinkertopia opened its doors on July 20, a steady stream of creative souls — young and not-so-young — have trekked through. Tricia DeOme of Tacoma took her two-year-old son Evan to check out the space on a Sunday morning. “We made a fire truck and fire fighter out of carton packaging, tubes, a wine cork, a straw, and popsicle sticks. It was our first real creative project together.”
Darcy’s suggestions helped tailor the project to Evan’s ability level, says DeOme. She plans to take Evan’s 9 and 12-year-old cousins from Seattle soon.
“Soon” is a good plan, since Tinkertopia may not stay in its current digs for long. Tinkertopia found its current home through Spaceworks Tacoma, a program that matches artists with vacant spaces in partnership with the City of Tacoma Arts Commission and the Tacoma Pierce County Chamber. Their occupancy runs through the end of the year — though the couple would like to stay longer.
“Tinkertopia isn’t going away, even if we have to move someplace else,” says Darcy. “But this neighborhood has been delightful.”
The new venture is the perfect fit for the bustling downtown block, says DeOme. “It’s a destination, which is great for the area. There’s plenty of foot traffic. It was getting pretty packed by the time we left.”
How it works
Diverse art media, from fabric scraps and foam disks to binder combs and doorknobs, are arranged in labeled, easy-to-access bins at kid height, chosen by former Montessori instructor Darcy to encourage self-directed exploration. Guests can purchase supplies by the bagful to take home or use in Tinkertopia’s studio. Studio users pay a small fee, which includes the use of art supplies and creative materials like glue, stickers or a sewing machine.
Those who desire more direction can purchase make-and-take kits preloaded with supplies for a small art project to make at home.
Who should go
It’s not just child’s play — Tinkertopia also attracts adults with its custom workshops on everything from sewing to jewelry making. A paper-making workshop is planned for this fall. “We have a wide audience,” says Darcy. “I’d say around four or five is when kids can really create something on their own, but toddlers can create with their parents’ help. We do a lot of teen birthday parties. A group of women recently came in to make jewelry together. There’s no age limit.”
What you'll spend
Art supplies are sold by the (generously stuffed) sack: a small bag runs $6.95, a large bag is $9.95, and a “humungous” bag will set you back $19.99. Studio time is $7 for around two hours, and birthday parties are $100 for up to 10 children.
The current space is a smidge too small for school groups — but Darcy and R.R. can bring the Tinkertopia experience to you. They regularly load up the “Tinkermobile” van with bins and buckets of supplies for art workshops at schools and camps.
How to join the fun
Contribute creative fuel by donating supplies. Check the website for a list of in-demand items, like zippers, rubber balls, and bobbins. Bring donations (no food containers or medical waste, please) to Tinkertopia, or contact email@example.com to schedule a pickup.
Follow Tinkertopia on Facebook to view others’ Tinkertopia creations, ask questions, or propose a workshop topic or a new make-and-take kit; Darcy and R.R. often crowd-source ideas for workshops and love customer suggestions.
While you're in the area
Tinkertopia is surrounded by some of Tacoma’s best bites. Enjoy breakfast at the nearby Renaissance Café, lunch or dinner at Indochine Thai restaurant, or a sweet treat at Hello Cupcake. Stroll the UW Tacoma campus, or wander across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass to the Musuem of Glass on the sparkling Tacoma waterfront.
If you go . . .
Where: Tinkertopia, 1914 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.— 6 p.m.
About the author: Malia Jacobson is a semi-crafty mom of three from Tacoma. She’s already imagining the fantastic creations her kids will bring home after their upcoming trek to Tinkertopia.
Photos courtesy of Tinkertopia