Alumna Harriet Taub on Refuse, Reuse, and Turning Garbage into Art

NYU Steinhardt News

Alumna Harriet Taub on Refuse, Reuse, and Turning Garbage into Art

"We were green when it wasn't sexy or cool to think about reuse and waste reduction," says alumna Harriet Taub (BS, '76). A graduate of Steinhardt's Arts Education program, Taub is the director of Materials for the Arts (MFTA). As director, she oversees the largest reuse program in New York City; its mission is to keep valuable items from entering landfills. In 2006, Taub estimates that MFTA kept 751 tons of material out of the waste stream and put them into the hands of artists and educators. We spoke with Taub recently about her work.

How did your education prepare you for what you do?

Going to NYU and living in New York City in the '70s was an adventurous educational experience. Things were not nearly as expensive then as they are now, but even so, we went looking for "finds" on garbage night to decorate our apartments and also to use in our artwork. I student-taught in Chinatown, and remember telling my students that the entire city was a museum filled with wonderful textures, colors, and patterns. We used the richness of the outdoors to supplement the work in the classroom.

Where does MTFA get materials?

We get our donations from businesses and individuals in the New York City metropolitan region. Right now we have seats from a Walter Reade theater. A number of small New York City theater groups are in line to outfit their spaces with them. The items that we're generally in need of, and cannot get enough of, are beads, trim and notions, paper, props, household items, and stationery supplies.

What's the best part of your job?

I'm most proud of our education program at MFTA, which is funded through our not-for-profit partner, Friends of Materials for the Arts. Here we are able to focus our philosophy on the importance of reuse in arts education and train educators how to best use the materials found in our warehouse. After our program, teachers take a brand new skill set back to their classrooms.

For more information about volunteer opportunities, to donate items, or to learn more, go to