Pitt Magazine

One person’s trash is Ash Andrews’ treasure

Andrews stands inside the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse
Executive Director Ash Andrews stands among the many objects (like mannequin feet) people have donated to the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. Photo by Aimee Obidzinski

As a child growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Ash Andrews rarely had the newest toy or game. Instead, the imaginative youngster watched their parents and grandparents reuse much of what came into the house and then adopted the practice, too. Andrews learned how to create fun out of what was already there — miniature cities grew from pistachio shells and old film canisters; plastic bread bag clips became the city’s curiously shaped inhabitants.           

That creative spirit never left Andrews. Today, the artist and entrepreneur is applying the same something-out-of-nothing skillset to promoting sustainability and eco-friendly resourcefulness.

Much of this is done at the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, a nonprofit organization with an unconventional art materials shop in the city’s East End that accepts what others won’t — things like old trophies, discarded plastic easter eggs, boxes of buttons and misprints from local businesses. As the Creative Reuse executive director since 2016, Andrews (UPG ‘08), along with their team, inspires people to consider the impact reuse has on the community and environment. The work helps to meet the community’s creative and material needs, while also diverting 40-50 tons of material from landfills annually.

“Nature, creativity, how we use what’s around us — it’s all interconnected,” says Andrews, whose efforts at Creative Reuse go far beyond the retail store.

In 2023, the nonprofit worked with nearly 4,700 people through in-person and virtual workshops that created opportunities to do everything from constructing playful dioramas to weaving baskets out of old newspapers. Andrews manages the Creative Reuse artist-in-residency program, through which a local artist from a marginalized community receives sponsorship and gallery space in the shop. Creative Reuse also partners with dozens of area organizations, such as the nearby Homewood Children’s Village, to provide educational activities and materials to low-income and historically underserved communities.

“Everything is relationship based,” says Andrews. “We respond to our community’s needs and amplify the artists and organizations right here.”

Andrews began to hone this collaborative, creative philosophy while at University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, where they were able to create their own humanities major with a focus on studio art, art history and language. Then came an adventure of working on an organic farm in Hawaii, where Andrews learned to value the communal component to enacting social change. So, when they returned to Pittsburgh and got involved with Creative Reuse in 2010, it wasn’t just the hands-on crafting and sustainability that was appealing but the people-first focus too.

Facilitating reuse is a great way to build community, says Andrews. "Folks want to be a part of a community where resources are shared — from material to immaterial — and they find that full-circle at Creative Reuse."

Like the people Creative Reuse supports, Andrews knows there’s a lot you can achieve with imagination and heart, even if what you begin with doesn’t seem like much at all.