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August 20, 2018

Public-art project reimagines 18 trashcans in Center City

And yes, the #TrashcanTakeover initiative was inspired by those 300 CHEAP JEEPS ads

Advertising Public Spaces
Trash Can Art Photo Courtesy of Eric Dale for Rory/Ad Painted by Alex Kuhn

This trash can near 16th and Walnut streets is part of an 18-piece public-art project spurred on by the City of Philadelphia's recent push to sell those spaces as advertising.

Earlier this summer, the outrage swirling about Center City focused on Philadelphia having sold advertising space on hundreds of Big Belly trashcans.

The reaction to the 10-year, $1.25 million contract (for which the city gets a five-percent cut) was social-media swift and negative: Ugh, those Barbera’s Autoland “300 JEEPS CHEAP!” ads are overwhelming.

Well, this week comes word that a fitness chain and creative agency have teamed up to purchase ad space on 18 of those trashcans and replace the car dealership advertisements with works from local artists.

The #TrashcanTakeover initiative – involving City Fitness, Rory Creative and @StreetsDept – was prompted both by “City Council’s policy which transformed 375 of the City’s trashcans into salable advertising space” and the reaction to what that looked like in practice.

The public-art initiative features trashcans in the area between 15th and 19th streets and Chestnut and Latimer. A #TrashcanTakeover Google Map (seen below) details the specific locations, artist names and photos of the trashcans themselves. The artworks include oil paintings, acrylics, digital illustrations, photographs, silk graffiti and more.

For Tom Wingert of City Fitness – which purchased and donated the ad space and commissioned creative agency Rory to oversee the project – the move is in line with their professional focus: improving quality of life for Philadelphians.

It was also an “opportunity to challenge all brands to be more conscious of not only what their message is, but how that message finds its way into the public eyes,” he said via press release.

Trash Can ArtPhoto Courtesy of Eric Dale for Rory/Image by Stefan Suchancec

The #TrashcanTakeover effort also overtook 15th and Chestnut streets.

Brendan Lowry of Rory Creative said he reached out to Wingert, who had been already talking with Conrad Benner of the @StreetsDept Twitter and Instagram accounts. 

Those discussions triggered a July 9 call for artists sent out via Instagram that would soon become a four-week, $10,503.75 ad buy.

"The idea came from my personal frustration walking through the city and seeing these ads bombarding me and the rest of Philadelphia," Lowry said Monday morning. "This space could be used in such a better way. It was frustrating people instead of inspiring them."

That Instagram post got shared hundreds of times, enabling them to zero in on 18 artists to participate. (It wasn't a competition; rather, people in the know told them who they thought might be perfect for this.)

It remains unclear how many of the 18 garbage receptacles formerly featured Autoland ads, but Lowry said "Barbera isn't the only culprit of this. Their ads are just so prominent."

Public ArtBrian Hickey/PhillyVoice

The Barbera Autoland trash-can ads still occupy many trash cans in Center City.

A spokesman for Barbera did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the trash-can takeover. (This story will be updated should that change.)

In addition to Benner and Lowry, the artists whose works will remain on those Big Belly trashcans are Sheldon Abba, Amberella, Iris Barbee Bonner, Aubrie Costello, Saeed Ferguson, Santiago Galeas, Alex Kuhn, Gianni Lee, Nilé Livingston, Sean Martorana, Alloyius Mcilwaine, Najeeb Sheikh, Kelly Smith, Stefan Suchanec, Marisa Velázquez-Rivas and Vi Vu.

Kuhn explained his paint-and-pyrography vision for the can at 16th and Walnut streets in Center City.

"The inspiration for my work in the trash-can takeover comes from my feeling of listlessness in the path to discovery," said the Tyler School of Art graduate who lives in Fishtown and has a studio in Kensington. 

"A broken hydrant and a street cone, neither of the two fulfilling their original function on a mostly unnoticed corner of Philadelphia, this is how I felt," he continued. "Unnoticed, without purpose and wearing a dunce cap."

That feeling shifted into "something positive" when he started to paint something he'd seen with his own eyes, meshing well with the takeover, he said.

"I think that the whole project is just remarkable," Kuhn said. "Beyond beautifying the city by replacing some intrusive advertisements, I believe that Art is something that should be for everyone.

"Regardless of race, religion, age, or creed, and that in this time of greater and greater bombardment of information, a quick glance at something that might bring you out of your head and into a place of equanimity might not be so bad, if even for a moment."

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