Julia Gartrell, 33

Artist and creator of Radical Repair Workshop, a traveling art project housed in a vintage camper 

You were born and raised in Durham. What brought you back?

I went to college in Michigan, and while I was in college, my family moved away from Durham, so I moved back to anchor myself to the town. I felt like otherwise, I wouldn’t have a relationship to it. I worked full-time at the Scrap Exchange for about three years as a store manager.

What do you think Durham’s relationship to reuse and repair is?

The Scrap Exchange is a pretty monumental benefit to this town, and growing up here, I didn’t really think about it as being really unique. But leaving for college and for other adventures in the past 15 years, it became really clear that it’s such an obvious resource that every community should have. It’s not hard to be a thoughtful consumer here if you are interested in doing so. Every single community could do better in terms of consuming less from the get-go. It’s really, really easy to buy things online and not really think about the impact of that practice. I’m not saying I’m perfect by any means. But I think that a circular economy is really important. Before you buy a brand-new thing, thinking about, well, a) do I need that thing?, b) do I have something that could suffice, or could I borrow it from someone?, and c) is there a way that, if I’m replacing something, the thing I’m replacing could just be repaired? Going through that thought process before you pull the trigger to buy something is something everyone everywhere could do.

How has the participatory aspect of the Radical Repair Workshop influenced the project? 

Everyone has some story of a broken object in their life, be it their favorite mug or their favorite toy or whatever. One of the most meaningful elements that the project has had so far was this collection of [what is] basically your most-used T-shirt. I got 25 or 30 people to lend me their most holey—both full of holes and sort of wholly valuable—T-shirts and send me a description of their story. It was a really interesting take on the idea of repair and the idea of the history and memory of objects because basically everyone has that item of clothing. They all hold some kind of complicated, personal story. 

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