by Will Kanellos
The crowded shelves are filled with stacks of fabrics, piles of colored paper, pens, markers, colored glass and other items one would expect in a recycled arts and crafts store. A clear container’s contents swirl and press together, forming a marble pattern of greys, blues, reds and whites. The container reads “dryer lint”. The same lint people pull out of their dryers to avoid fires can be found on the shelves at Eugene’s Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts (MECCA) waiting to be repurposed and used in somebody’s creative endeavors.
MECCA is a non-profit aimed at providing Eugene’s community with affordable and recycled art supplies as well as workshops and a public art studio. During their exhibit for November’s First Friday Artwalk, the exhibit displays a local artist and a small group art show celebrating Dia de los Muertos. Two women in the crowd are dressed in Dia de los Muertos outfits. Both are wearing floor length black dresses while their faces are painted white to resemble skulls. One is an artist participating in the group show and the other is Mija Andrade, the executive director of MECCA.
Much of Andrade’s outfit, she handcrafted herself. She has a bright red headband with paper shaped into a roses and a long decorative necklace with a skull bead on the end. “I love to incorporate odd and unusual things. These are beetle wings and these are beads that I actually made and wired out of scrap fabric,” Andrade says about her Dia de los Muertos necklace. “You know, it’s pretty eclectic and somehow it all comes together.”
Andrade and I are sitting in MECCA’s studio space, set apart from the main store and gallery area.Sculptures created in this studio stare down at us. A paper mache creature with bright bloodshot eyes, a pig-like snout, purple antennae and spiky red teeth seems poised to leap from its shelf and dart into a hidden corner of the room. All of the creations were made using recycled materials provided by MECCA, including Andrade’s necklace and headband.
Andrade was born in Calexico, California and spent much of her childhood traveling between central and southern California. Since she was young, her mother always supported and encouraged her creativity. In high school she had a job that allowed her to work on one of the first Macintosh computers during the early years of digital art. After receiving her certificate in graphic arts from University of California Santa Cruz in 1989, she used her digital art experience to work jobs throughout the industry. Positions she held included layout and in house graphics for a newspaper, technical illustration, drawing clip art, magazine layout and also created product manuals.
Andrade and her former husband moved to Eugene in 1994 where she continued her career in graphic art. Eventually she grew tired of working on the computer and wanted to go back to creating hands on art. “That kind of switch happened when my daughter was born, like all of the sudden my creative energy was really reawakened. I was really compelled to be making a lot of art using my hands and reusing materials. And that’s what led me to MECCA, I was really inspired by reusing materials and the challenge of finding a way to use something that was no longer useful for its original purpose.”
Andrade began her time at MECCA seven years ago as a volunteer. She worked in the store and taught several classes. After three years, the previous director decided to leave MECCA and Andrade was made the director. “She still works with us actually… She is a great educator, but the materials exchange aspect of the organization was a challenge for her,” Andrade says about the previous director. She and the board of directors realized that the director of the organization needed to reflect MECCA’s mission. Andrade’s hands on artwork as well as her dedication to reuse and recycling made her the ideal candidate. Recycling is a key component of MECCA’s mission and identity and provides a unique service to the community. University of Oregon student Laura Martin, a MECCA volunteer, says that MECCA provides, “a more rewarding alternative to simply throwing away items that have no more use for you. There’s also a lot of reward for the consumers who need those random little bits for projects.”
As director, Andrade no longer teaches classes, but is helping spread art education throughout Eugene. Currently, she is working on developing an art curriculum book for kindergarten through eighth grade classes. “I feel like that’s a way that we can reach more people. Assist more teachers and educators by providing art curriculum that has a reuse emphasis and therefore in the classroom create more opportunity for creative experiences.”
Our interview concludes and we walk out into MECCA’s main store area. “There you are!” a friend shouts from the back of the room. Andrade’s partner Deeja has recently arrived with Andrade’s daughter. Andrade and her elaborate handmade outfit are instantly the center of attention as she casually passes through the store, greeting everybody by name with a smile that still manages to be warm and inviting even with the skull makeup.