Neighborhood Trash Cans to Provide Curb Appeal Philadelphia Community Cans Program Makes Art from an Unlikely Source

Mural Arts Students from William T. Tilden Middle School prep the lids for the Community Cans Project!
Mural Arts Students from William T. Tilden Middle School prep the lids for the Community Cans Project!

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphians can feast their eyes on the city’s many murals. Walls within the urban landscape come alive with splashes of color and reflections on cultural heritage. But in two Philadelphia neighborhoods, trash can lids, not walls, are the canvas for contemporary art. This community art will be on display in the Juniata Park and Southwest Philadelphia neighborhoods starting this month.

The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) and partners such as the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), Mural Arts, and Philadelphia’s Zero Waste Initiative provided these unlikely canvases through a grant from the EPA’s Trash Free Waters program. Working through the Philadelphia Community Cans program, which combines art and community engagement to reduce litter throughout the city, PDE and partners provided 50 trash cans to grassroots organizations in two neighborhoods. These groups hired local artists to create unique, eye-catching designs for the trash can lids and then led community members
in decorating and installing them. This past fall, residents of the Juniata Park neighborhood decorated 20 can lids, and students from Tilden Middle School painted another 30 lids.

The goal of the Community Cans program is to reduce litter on neighborhood streets. The idea is that residents will be more likely to put their trash in cans they decorated, as well as encourage others to keep the neighborhood beautiful. Reducing litter and debris in city streets prevents pollutants like micro-plastics from reaching local streams and rivers. The less pollution that goes into our waterways, the better the health of aquatic ecosystems and the quality of life for residents who rely on the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers for their drinking water.

The Tookany Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTF) took the lead in Juniata Park. Artist Jay Coreano, a neighborhood native, led a community paint day on Oct. 19 at Ferko Playground. Dozens of community members painted 20 trash can lids with bright colors and positive community-oriented messaging. These cans will be installed later this month along Cayuga Street and other neighboring commercial corridors.

The Southwest Community Development Corporation and the African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA) led the charge to bring some colorful cans to local streets and reduce litter and household dumping along Woodland Avenue and nearby corridors in the Southwest neighborhood. Local artist Rhonda Davis worked with students at Tilden Middle School to decorate 30 trash can lids, which will be installed later this month.

For other neighborhoods and communities that might be interested in this type of project, Mural Arts is developing a start-to-finish guide through the process. It is the group’s objective that litter prevention through public art can spread throughout Philadelphia.

For more information about the Community Cans project, contact Kate Hutelmyer at khutelmyer@delawareestuary.org.

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