Where calling art ‘trash’ is a good thing

Caitlan Reeg Jun 12, 2009

Where calling art ‘trash’ is a good thing

Caitlan Reeg Jun 12, 2009


Steve Chiotakis: Cities pay a lot to deal with their trash. Millions of dollars every year. So in yet another effort to get more residents to recycle they’re trying something different, displaying trash in a new light. Marketplace’s Caitlan Carroll explains.

Caitlan Carroll: Artist Bill Basquin peers into a box full of dark, moist compost. A few of his photographic subjects are placed delicately on top.

Bill Basquin: Those are the bananas there. There are some bugs in them. These are the carrots.

Basquin takes artsy pictures of rotting fruit and vegetables. Up close they look like colorful other worldly creatures, all texture and moldy fuzz. He’s also designed a compost bin with a glass front so people can see food as it turns to soil.

Basquin: I personally believe that kind of participation is helpful in getting people…in sort of shifting what they’re capable of imagining.


asquin is an artist-in-residence at the San Francisco dump. You heard me right. The artist-in-residence at the dump. He’s one of many artists sponsored by Recology, San Francisco’s waste management company. The artists spend four-months digging through mountains of trash for inspiration. Recology gives tours of the gallery. The artists talk about their work to groups, mostly schoolchildren.

Deborah Munk manages the program. She says it’s a way to teach kids about recycling.

Deborah Munk: They send us thank you letters, love letters that tell us what they’re doing with their trash and most importantly they go home and tell their parents how to recycle or not to waste food and to put the food in the compost bin.

There’s a market for the art, which includes purses made out of plastic and sculptures created from old bicycle parts. Pieces typically sell for about $500. San Francisco artists aren’t the only ones pairing imagination with sanitation.

Peter Schulberg: Welcome to eco-logical art, the house of divinyl intervention as I call it.

Peter Schulberg directs the nonprofit Eco-Logical Art in Los Angeles. Companies donate old billboards to the gallery and artists use them as giant canvases. Companies don’t have to dispose of the toxic vinyl and people driving by get a free show.

Schulberg: There are beautiful shapes out there that if we just take the time to turn them upside-down and look at them differently, they have the opportunity to live again.

Schulberg works with Clear Channel and CBS Outdoors to display the billboards. He plans to expand the program nationwide.

I’m Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.