Imagine a world where teachers don’t have to break the bank to provide their students with art supplies for their projects. A place where they can go and pick up materials for free, without any frustration or financial strain. This dream has become a reality in Tempe, Arizona, thanks to the Art Resource Center (ARC), a non-profit organization founded in 2004 by Sherrie Zeitlin. 

As I entered THE ARC warehouse, the energy was palpable. The warehouse was cozy, charming, and overflowing with character. The shelves were lined with an array of donated art supplies, ranging from traditional materials like paint and brushes, to unexpected treasures like corks, bottle caps, and wrapping paper tubes. The visitors moved excitedly through the warehouse, their eyes scanning the shelves for the perfect materials to take back to their classrooms. 

I settled down for an interview with Zeitlin and one of THE ARC’s three lead volunteers Pat Burdette in the front entrance area, which doubled as an office. With a backdrop of shelves lined with quirky and fascinating art pieces created from a variety of materials, Zeitlin and Burdette shared the story of how THE ARC came to be. 

Zeitlin had a background in education, so she understood the financial burden that purchasing art materials for classrooms can cause. With money disappearing from schools and the arts, she was determined to make a difference. In 2004 she launched THE ARC in a 480-square-foot studio with the goal of providing teachers with free art supplies. Because Zeitlin was an artist with many connections, her artist friends flooded THE ARC with donations.

“We outgrew that place in a nanosecond,” said Zeitlin. She was later given a larger kindergarten classroom at a children’s theatre. “We filled that in two nanoseconds.” Said Zeitlin. They stayed there for a few years without heat and air conditioning, but the temperature didn’t slow down the power of THE ARC. Many years and many moves later, THE ARC has grown to fill a 4000 square-foot warehouse, providing supplies to at least 250,000 people annually, and saving countless pounds of materials from ending up in landfills.  

As Zeitlin put it, “Everything you see has been given to us by somebody.” From traditional art supplies to unexpected materials, THE ARC accepts donations of all “art worthy” materials to keep them out of landfills and put them to use in classrooms. “We love to see the traditional stuff!” Said Zeitlin excitedly referring to paints, chalk, watercolors, colored pencils, fabric, yarn, stickers, glue, tape, buttons, and crayons. But they also accept a variety of other materials for art projects. Their website has posted an expanded Donate/Don’t Donate List.  

“We have people who don’t shop here, they only donate things. They bring us things because this is a great place to bring them, and they don’t go to the landfill.” Said Burdette, “We have teachers and artists who come here and are inspired by materials. ‘Oh, I could do something with this. What could I do with this?’” Burdette seemed nostalgic when she talked about the teachers’ spark of inspiration. Burdette started off as an art teacher who came to THE ARC to get art materials, and when she became a fine arts coordinator, she sent all her teachers to THE ARC. “It makes a difference for artists,” said Burdette, “From preschoolers to seasoned artists.”  

Image from THE ARC website.

THE ARC is not only making a difference for teachers, but also non-profits. Countless organizations come to THE ARC to gather materials for heartwarming projects such as crafting stockings for veterans, knitting caps for cancer patients, creating blankets for the homeless, and designing art projects for people with disabilities – just to name a few.  

“We couldn’t do it without our volunteers.” Said Zeitlin. “I couldn’t do it without my husband Ron, I couldn’t do it without Pat. I couldn’t do it without the rest of the volunteers” Zeitlin smiled at her friend and lead volunteer sitting next to her.  When Zeitlin started off, she only had 1 volunteer, now they have the most volunteers that they have ever had.  

“It’s really fulfilling on several levels. It feels really good to support such a great place that does so much good for so many people.” Said Burdette. “It’s a very flexible place to volunteer.”  

According to both Zeitlin and Burdette, there are no set rules on how long a volunteer must stay, how many days they work, or needing to find someone to cover if you aren’t able to make it. “Some people come in to shop and then spend a little more time putting things away.” Said Burdette. “Before I became an official volunteer, I would come here and it was like, ‘well this needs to be organized.’ I couldn’t go around with the shelves looking like this.”  

the arc 2
Image from THE ARC website.

Our interview was pleasantly interrupted on multiple occasions by people strolling into the shop. “It’s always like this!” Laughed Zeitlin after she welcomed the third happy patron in 15 minutes. Every interaction was charming and genuine. One gentleman stopped by to retrieve a loom his wife had been searching for, for months. Another lady comfortably dropped folded cash into the panda bear donation jar, calling out “That’s for the sewing machine, thanks Sherrie.” 

An excitedly curious community college professor stumbled in the store for the first time and was given the newcomer tour. As she was shown around, a pair of vibrant art teachers walked out of the warehouse carrying an arm full of picture frames. Zeitlin insisted on them taking as many as they needed. “We appreciate you not wanting to clean us out of anything,” asserted Burdette, “but we are moving the warehouse around, and you’re doing us a favor.”  

“You’re moving?!” Exclaimed one of the teachers, shocked.  

“Oh no, just reorganizing the warehouse floor.” Reassured Burdette.  

“Okay good, because you were going to have much bigger problems than frames.” The teacher joked. She was referring to the uproar she and fellow teachers would have if THE ARC moved away from Tempe. THE ARC is a valuable organization to the community, and the patrons treat it as such.  

“There are different ways that people help us out here,” said Zeitlin, “We have people who donate supplies, we have people who volunteer their time, and we have people who give financially.”  

At one point the mailman entered the shop and Zeitlin perked up excitedly, “Oh the postal carrier is actually brining me something!” She said and enthusiastically accepted the envelope. “I love it when you bring me something.” She smiled warmly at the mailman as he departed. The contents of the envelope brought her to tears. It was a generous check from a donor that would help keep THE ARC afloat. Because of this donation and others like it, THE ARC has been able to provide free art supplies to teachers and non-profits for almost two decades.  

THE ARC is a shining example of how one person’s vision and determination can make a real difference in the lives of teachers, students, artists, and so many others. My brief time at THE ARC seemed magical. As I left, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of optimism and inspiration by the creativity and generosity that was alive and well within those walls. 


If you’re interested in visiting THE ARC, shopping there is simple and stress-free! A volunteer will greet you inside, you’ll sign in with your name and organization, then you’ll be given the tour of the warehouse. Once you know where everything is, you’re free to gather the supplies that you have been wanting! THE ARC is also always looking for donations and volunteers to help keep the free supplies flowing to teachers and non-profits. THE ARC is located in west Tempe, Arizona. They are open Wednesday 11 am – 5 pm and Saturdays 10 am – 2 pm.