DC Turns Its Recycling Trucks Into Moving Works Of Art

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The District of Columbia is hoping to raise awareness for the city’s recycling program by wrapping trucks with artwork done by local artists.

The D.C. Department of Public Works teamed up with the Commission on the Arts and Humanities to solicit artwork to feature on the sides of the trucks. The two agencies eventually chose 10 winners who were all paid $2,500 each for their submissions.

One of the chosen artists, Nicolas Shi, wrote a post on art202, the blog for the D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities, where he described the inspiration for his truck piece, which he called “Nuestra Tierra.”

I called this collage Nuestra Tierra or Our Land. For me this title takes on several dimensions: Since I’ve been adopted by this country, Washington, DC —the place I call home— is my land, but El Salvador is my birth place and China is the land of my ancestors. Furthermore, Tierra in Spanish means “land,” but it is also the name of our planet, thus the title of this project can be translated as “Our Land” or “Our Earth.” While the vibrant and colorful motifs of my design might intimate Hispanics of their roots, everyone will notice the bright and colorful recycling trucks and be reminded of the need to take care of our land… our Earth.

Shi is the son of two Chinese immigrants who moved to El Salvador in the 1970s. He came to the United States in 1980 to attend college in Oklahoma and moved to Washington, D.C. upon graduation.

So far, the arts commission has produced renderings for just four of the 10 chosen works of art, which will be rolled out on recycling trucks throughout the spring and summer. The art will remain on the trucks for two years, and then the commission will decide if it wants to continue the program.

Here are all the current concepts for the recycling trucks:

This isn’t the first time the city has dabbled in crowd-sourcing its public art projects. In 2002 it launched the “Party Animals” exhibition, which allowed area artists to paint elephants and donkeys in various styles, and then placed those works on street corners. As you would expect, some were a bit more hideous than others.

In 2004, as a follow-up to the “Party Animals” campaign, the city launched its “Pandamania” exhibit, which saw more than 150 pandas decorated by local artists scattered about the city. The results were similar. The residents were unimpressed.

While these public art installations were eventually auctioned off to raise money for city art programs, the recycling trucks will not.

In 2009, Philadelphia launched a similar program that allowed students at The Design Center at Philadelphia University to design artwork for the city’s recycling trucks. They celebrated their new trucks with an Earth Day parade.

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