In San Francisco, Making Art At The Dump

San Francisco recycles or diverts 69 percent of its trash, but sends 1,800 tons of garbage to the landfill each day. One way the city makes a dent in its landfill load is through an unusual program — sponsoring artists who turn garbage into art.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

San Francisco is one of the least wasteful cities in the country. Seventy percent of its trash gets recycled, composted, or reused. Even so, San Francisco sends 1,800 tons of garbage to the landfill every day. The city has found a creative way to make a small dent in its landfill load. It has a program that encourages artists to turn garbage into art. Lisa Morehouse has our story.

LISA MOREHOUSE: A group of about 20 kids from an environmental education camp are on what might be the funkiest field trip of their lives.

Unidentified Girl #1: That was the stinkiest place I've ever been to.

MOREHOUSE: They're at the dump. The kids gawk at the cavernous transfer station where garbage is dumped in a pit, bulldozed, and trucked out to local landfills in 100 daily loads.

Unidentified Girl #1: It smells horrible. Gross. Disgusting.

Unidentified Girl #2: It's stinky.

MOREHOUSE: The last stop of the tour is at a sculpture garden which displays more than 25 figures made out of garbage.

Unidentified Girl #3: Oh, I like that one over there. Some kind of, like metal bent in, like swirls.

MOREHOUSE: These sculptures grew out of San Francisco Recycling & Disposal's Artist In Residence Program. Seventy artists a year clamor for five spots. And since 1990, 72 symphony composers, videographers, writers, and sculptors have scavenged through the trash.

Ms. DEBORAH MUNK (Educator and Program Coordinator, Artist In Residence Program, San Francisco Recycling & Disposal): Each of our artists get paid a stipend, and they have 24-hour access to the facility. They have a studio space. We have an art show for them. They're actually very spoiled.

MOREHOUSE: Deborah Munk manages the residency.

Ms. MUNK: Whenever they need somebody to come with a forklift, we'll call and get a forklift over there if they need something really heavy picked up for them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MUNK: I mean, how great is that?

MOREHOUSE: The site's public disposal room is a 25,000-square-foot sheet metal building where contractors and city residents dump demolition debris.

Mr. CASEY LOGAN(ph) (Artist): My name is Casey Logan. I'm an artist digging through trash at the dump.

MOREHOUSE: He's got on boots, gloves, and a hard hat.

Mr. LOGAN: I got this antenna with a magnet on it. There's big chunks of concrete, there's perfect iron cast sinks, there's a double baby stroller, a couple of toilet bowls. Anything you can imagine.

MOREHOUSE: Recycling didn't come naturally for Logan. He grew up in Amarillo, Texas, where there's no curbside recycling. But he's been prolific during his residency, transforming castoff bicycles, guitars, chandeliers, even pens, into whimsical sculptures that reflect his interest in science.

Mr. LOGAN: Oh, umbrellas. I'll get every umbrella I can see. They got some really beautiful mechanics to them. I'm making a satellite right now. And I'm looking at components that might fit the size and scale and general shape of that satellite.

MOREHOUSE: He wheels a shopping cart filled with scrap wood and metal back to his studio and gets to work preparing for his exhibit, which marks the end of every residency. The quarterly art shows at the dump routinely attract hundreds of visitors, reminding us that one man's trash is another man's art. For NPR News, I'm Lisa Morehouse.

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