A giant drinking glass, a deer and a large dinosaur roam the streets of Yonkers, N.Y., three times each week on garbage collection days. With the exception of a few double takes, their presence is welcomed. The curious tableaus, emblazoned on six retrofitted garbage trucks by the Yonkers Department of Public Works (YDPW), represent an effort to educate the community about the environment while making the trucks a little more pleasant to look at.
One year ago, at the annual Yonkers Business Week, a local artist approached Yonkers Public Works Commissioner John Liszewski with the idea of collaborating with the department on a public art project. Although the artist's original idea — dressing the trucks in tutus and having them perform a ballet — was canned, Liszewski embraced her alternate suggestion: cover the trucks in artwork.
After putting out a call for suitable art, the department received more than 200 entries, including a submission from Germany. A panel, including teachers, individuals from the city's art community and Liszewski, chose six designs that conveyed an environmental message. Liszewski says the finalists were chosen based on “environmental awareness, the attractiveness of the design and how it would look on the truck.”
Rather than using paint, the trucks were wrapped in a durable, vinyl material on which the designs were printed. The “Banana” truck shows a rotting banana peel and broken eggshells. A pink polka-dotted dinosaur, nicknamed the Yonkers Chomper, cheerfully consumes residents' garbage. A clean glass of water adorns the appropriately named “Water” truck, while “City of Metal” depicts city garbage workers collecting trash in a futuristic metropolis. The “4 Seasons” truck honors all public works services — including road maintenance, snow removal, recycling and refuse, and water management — and associates them with the seasons. “Deer,” designed by a local high school student, depicts a deer drinking from a river. The winners each received $2,000 for their submissions, and the pride of knowing that their designs travel throughout every city district.
Liszewski says the Art Trucks project is the first of its kind in the country and was funded solely by private donations. He adds that it is not only raising environmental awareness, but is helping to improve the community's perception of the public works department. “A lot of times, people take for granted their sanitation workers or the people that maintain their streets. One of the things we wanted people to realize is how hard the work is … and to professionalize the work that our men do.”
Moreover, the project is intended to be fun. “There's a whimsical part of the project,” insists Liszewski. “When people see the Yonkers Chomper compacting their garbage, it makes [them] laugh.”