Trash talk on South Street

Combining brilliance with practicality, a partnership between the Mural Arts Program’s Big Picture children’s outreach and the Streets Department’s UnLitter Us effort has transformed some of the city’s ugliest pieces of street furniture (there’s a lengthy list, alas) into playful, pop-arty masterpieces.

Fifty solar-powered Big Belly trash compactors along South Street now sport riotously-colored decals. The eight designs — of “Litter Critters” such as trash-eating sharks with toothy grimaces plastered over the containers’ “mouths” — cover the graffiti and grunge that’s quickly accumulated on the brown metal containers since they first made their citywide appearance two years ago.

Designed by kids — with the able assistance of two Mural Arts artists, Ben Woodward and Thom Lessner — the vinyl wraps are also targeted at kids. “The aim is to make throwing away trash more appealing to children and to get a conversation going about not littering,” says Mural Arts’ Lisa Murch.

But, of course, given Mural Arts’ mission, the project also carries anti-graffiti goals. “One of the most remarkable things about this is that the three original containers that were wrapped as a pilot made it all the way from October to now without any damage or graffiti,” says Dave Hammond, executive director of the South Street Headhouse District. “It’ a real testimony to the power that Mural Arts’ work has.”

The funky shopping strip made a perfect choice for this initial effort, adds Hammond. “When they approached us, we said yes instantly. The more contemporary and colorful, the better, as far as we’re concerned.”

Whether we’ll see bejeweled and begowned opera singers (mouths wide open!) on the compactors along Broad Street is to be determined. “We’re interested in doing another set for another neighborhood,” says Murch. Funding is an issue, though, with the first 50 coming in at about $20,000 for materials, printing, installation and artists’ fees. “If we do the project again,” Murch says, “we’ll proceed in the same way, by reaching out to any interested communities.”

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