Where Artists Can Rent Tools, Equipment, and Materials
To create art, you need materials and tools. For the most DIY of us, we can find some of those materials and tools around our homes. But the rest of us will need to source tools, equipment, and materials to make our work.
Often, artists will purchase what you need outright, but that’s not always the best decision. You might not have the money to buy the equipment you need or the space to store it. You might only need to use a tool once or twice, which wouldn’t justify a purchase. So, understanding that artists need to use tools and equipment that you aren’t always going to be buying for keeps, what are your options to borrow or rent the tools you need to create your work?
What Kinds of Tools, Equipment, or Materials Do Artists Need to Rent?
There are all kinds of things that artists might need to use for only a little bit of time in support of a project. It will depend on your creative discipline and your specific project. But as you create, display, and document your work, you’ll absolutely need tools to help make it happen.
Performers, directors, or producers will have to borrow costumes, set pieces, or props. Ceramicists (like myself) will need to rent a kiln or a wheel if they don’t have one themselves. Artists often need to use literal tools like drills, saws, or nail guns for creating or installing a gallery show. You might also need equipment to help you document your work, like cameras, recording equipment, lights, and microphones.
Where to Rent Equipment Depends on Location and Medium
The places where you can go to rent tools or equipment will depend on a number of factors.
First of all, it will depend on the kind of work that you make and what exactly it is you need. Borrowing a ballet bar and an angle grinder will probably require making two stops. Although, if you know where we could get both, we’re dying to know!
Your options for renting equipment will depend on your location, as well. There will be more rental options in bigger cities just based on a larger population and more resources. But a smaller community might be more tight-knit and therefore offer better word-of-mouth and friend of a friend options.
Budget will also play a big role. If you’ve got a shoestring budget, your options are more limited than if you can afford to pay more.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to where artists can rent the tools and equipment that you need because the needs are all unique and every place that you might rent from will work slightly differently. But these are some places to start.
Universities, community colleges, art schools, or anywhere that’s in the business of education is worth looking into to see if they have a program to rent or lend you what you need. Schools are used to working with people who are exploring new mediums and therefore are unlikely to have invested in a full studio of every piece of equipment imaginable.
Schools are worth looking into for equipment like cameras, microphones, or even computers. They probably aren’t your best bet for borrowing a big ladder or power tools, though.
Of course, rental options might only be available for students, but it’s worth asking. If you get a “no” from one school, don’t be discouraged. Keep calling around in case some schools in your area offer equipment rentals even if others do not.
Libraries aren’t just for books! Like schools, libraries might be able to help you out if you’re looking for equipment to help you record and share your work.
For example, the New York Public Library has tech kits available for patrons to borrow for up to three months. Patrons of the East Chicago Public Library in Indiana can borrow Polaroid cameras, slide projectors, and digital cameras from its Audio Visual department.
Even if a library isn’t able to lend you what you need, they are used to helping connect patrons with resources and might have good ideas for you to explore.
Local Artist Studios
If you’re not connected to an arts studio space (or if the one you are a part of doesn’t have what you need), consider looking up studios that are full of artists who make the kind of work you make. For example, a woodworking studio might have a lending program for their tools that you could take advantage of. Or, you could come in and pay to use the tools or equipment by the hour.
Look up shared studio spaces in your city, town, or neighborhood and ask if they have a rental program, a way to pay to use tools in the studio as a guest, or any connections to others who could help you out.
Any time you have a question or issue related to your creative practice, it’s always a good idea to reach out to your peers. They have likely been in the same position you are in and might have some good advice. Or, they might just have the thing that you need to borrow!
Asking for advice or tips from your community can give you information that’s not available through a Google search and can build stronger bonds within your network.
It’s a little glib to just list a store, but actually for tool rentals, Home Depot is a truly solid option. The larger lesson is that we should consider options outside of the box of just what’s available to artists. Sure, artists need power drills, but so do plenty of other people.
Choosing Where to Rent Tools From
When comparing different rental options, it’s hard to know how to make your final decision. Here are some factors to consider:
First of all, consider the price. Can you afford it? Will you have to spend less on some other aspect of your work? Is it so inexpensive that you worry about the quality?
Additionally, look into the insurance policies. What happens if what you’re using gets lost, damaged, or stolen? Hopefully none of this will happen, but you want to be prepared in case it does.
Is there any support available to show you how to use a piece of equipment if you’ve never used it before? Will somebody demo it for you or be available to answer questions?
Flexibility is also an important consideration. If you need to borrow something longer than you initially anticipated or need to reschedule your appointment to pick up or drop off a tool, can that be accommodated? Creative life can be unpredictable and you want to work with partners that have flexibility built into their operating model.
Finally, personal recommendations can help you make a final decision about where to rent materials or equipment from. If someone you know has had a particularly good or bad experience, that intel is more useful than trying to parse out a bunch of Yelp reviews.
Consider a Co-op
If you’re looking for a long-term solution for gaining access to tools, equipment, and materials that you cannot or don’t want to be wholly responsible for, look into either joining or forming a cooperative. In a co-op, members share the financial burdens of purchasing and storing materials and, depending on how it’s organized, all have access to those materials either in a shared space or in a lending library.
When we think about solving problems of getting the tools we need for our art, we have to solve the problem that’s right in front of us. How do I find a nail gun that I can use for the next month or where can I borrow six Elizabethan dresses? But the bigger question is how can we build arts ecosystems and communities to make this process easier in the long run. Cooperatives are one way to answer that question.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.