What is Trash Academy?
Trash Academy is a “collaboratory” between community members, artists, environmental activists, and young people from all across the city. Supported through Mural Arts’ Environmental Justice Department, Trash Academy inspires a wellspring of actions, believing that those who are most impacted by environmental challenges are the ones who must be at the forefront of crafting solutions. Rooted in the practice of collaboration and inclusivity, we develop, test, and share fun, interactive points of entry like games and teach-ins that posit a depth of knowledge and complicate the issue of trash.
Who’s Who in the Collaboratory
The artists Margaret Kearney, Tieska Smith, Adriana Moran Garcia, Gamar Markarian, Shari Hersh, Breyani Gupton, Timmell FLoyd-Sherard, Joy Waldinger
The activists and collaborators Ron Whyte, Emma Wu, Merletta Matthews, Paige Scott-Cooper, Mona Singletary, Carla Graham, Isaiah Alamo, Aminata Calhoun, Kyla Van Buren
What is an Implosion?
At Trash Academy, one of our primary goals is to complicate the seemingly simple and straightforward issue of trash. Understanding, unpacking and analyzing complex systems is a fundamental part of our praxis. The ‘implosion’ is a unique and fascinating research method for exploring hidden connections and complexities, pioneered and developed by professor Donna Haraway. Because the implosion method fosters the development of concrete, situated knowledge, it is especially useful for helping us to understand the world as it is rather than as it is perceived through the often subjective lenses of ideology, politics or personal perspective. Trash Academy’s unique angle on communicating via the implosion method involves horizontal collaboration with community members, youth, artists, activists, environmental justice advocates, and experts. Because we prefer to address the serious issues of climate change and environmental justice through the point of entry of fun and creativity, we visualize and diagram the implosion rather than relying exclusively on text.
Trash Academy has set a goal to see all of Philadelphia’s diverse communities take action to promote reusable bags. Of floating debris in Philadelphia, 17% is plastic bags that clog our storm water drains and contribute to flooding. Plastic pollution is not just prevalent in our streets and streams. Plastic enters our bodies through the seafood we eat that has ingested plastics and through the toxic fumes released by incinerated bags. Low-income communities of color are disproportionately affected, as incineration facilities are often sited near them. Reusable bags are a common sense, just alternative.
Trash Academy, in collaboration with Clean Water Action and the city of Philadelphia’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, initiated a campaign to reduce the number of plastic bags in our streets and in our waste stream. To support action on this issue, Trash Academy helped to form a diverse coalition of grassroots organizations, non-profits, block captains, and neighbors, while CWA worked with businesses and government. Trash Academy participants developed artistic interventions in multiple artistic media, creating graphics, posters, banners, a website and costumes in addition to the billboards around the city that were used by coalition members to amplify their work for the protection of our city’s health and environment.
Build it Discs
“Bandit signs” are illegal advertising signs made of coroplast, a type of plastic that often cannot be recycled. Community members have long been concerned that these signs are encouraging illegal behaviors and predatory practices. The City of Philadelphia’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet recruited community groups to gather over 8,000 of these illegal signs. Trash Academy, in collaboration with Tiny WPA, has converted many of these signs into “build it discs” imprinted with facts about the environmental impact of plastics. The discs invite intergenerational play, including building towers, making “flow” and other fun challenges. The dramatic and colorful discs invite bystanders to engage and learn more about plastics. With a guiding philosophy of “from problem to play,” an environmentally destructive nuisance has been repurposed into a fun and exciting tool for education and community engagement.
Students from across Philadelphia did extensive research into trash, recycling, landfills, and the environment in South Philly. Working with artists, activists, and city employees, the students created a new video series, Trash Trouble—blending documentary, poetry, and design to explore how recycling and landfills function, and to understand how they affect our experience of the city. The videos, facilitated by artists Eva Wŏ and Hilary Brashear, and environmental educator Ciara Williams, contribute to a growing public toolkit for “teach-ins” and other forms of citizen-to-citizen education.
Resulting from the same exploratory research as Trash Trouble, the Dirty Danger project has produced an engaging and educational experience for passersby, via the City’s Big Belly solar trash compactors. The designs, created by Trash Academy youth with artist Eva Wŏ and environmental educator Ciara Williams, feature mystical animals camouflaged in vibrant, abstracted natural environments. Lurking in the background, photorealistic soda bottles, snack bags, and other trash items encourage us to think about where our litter may end up if we don’t properly dispose of it.
Public Education Poster
Within an environmental science course at South Philadelphia High School, youth engaged in a month-long exploration of trash rights and responsibilities in Philadelphia. The class investigated city systems as well as citizen rights and responsibilities relating to litter in order to develop a tool to engage residents, business owners, and other stakeholders in their community around the issue of trash. Participants interviewed experts and decision makers, visited key sites, and engaged in critical discussion and brainstorming. The class culminated in the creation of a colorful foldout pamphlet aptly titled “We Have a Right to a Clean City: A Practical Guide to Trash Rights and Responsibilities in Philadelphia.” In addition to student drawings and research, the guide features information about the benefits of greening, citywide waste disposal, and recycling services; resources to address illegal dumping; and ways residents can become involved and advocate for themselves and for their communities. The guide is multilingual to better support the diverse population in our targeted area of South Philadelphia.
The Trashmobile is a mobile unit designed by youth to educate, inform, and collect information about people’s experience of trash and trash management in Philadelphia. The Trashmobile is designed to meet communities where they are at neighborhood events, community meetings, street fairs, etc., and to provide a playful entry point to a discussion about a complicated issue. Youth from Trash Academy created games and activities designed to engage their audiences around the issue of trash. The Trashmobile is operated by a group of industrious high school students from all across the city.
Utilizing the public nature of corners as an asset for addressing the trash issue and rebuilding community connections, Neighborhood Interventions reinforces the public domain as a positive space for sharing knowledge and getting to know one’s neighbors. In a neighborhood in which trash is one of many factors which divide people, the process of the creation, installation, and exploration of the corner interventions are fun and generate new and unexpected relationships. These interventions are designed to respond to specific needs in a specific community, using the process of public art making to build connections while addressing real issues and needs such as storage of trash cans, outdoor seating, and residential dumping in public trash cans.
Major support for Trash Academy is provided by the Surdna Foundation. Environmental Justice is funded by PTS Foundation, Surdna Foundation, and the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation.