Creative Wonder

Like archeologists excavating Egypt's renowned pyramids, sculptors, painters and performers at the Sanitary Fill Co.'s Artist in Residence program uncover hidden treasures — but in the form of trash.

In 1990, the San Francisco Arts Commission proposed the Artists in Residence program to the Sanitary Fill Co., a local transfer station. As part of the program, an artist receives a stipend to work full-time for several months at the transfer station, creating art from materials found at the site. While in-residence, the artist also educates tour groups, such as schools, about recycling and conservation.

Sanitary Fill Co., a subsidiary of San Francisco-based Norcal Waste Systems, agreed to the proposal after it received approval from the city's solid waste department. The company required the city's endorsement because its services are paid for by the municipal garbage rate, which includes all of the art program's expenses.

“The solid waste department is very supportive of the arts,” says Paul Fresina, Artist in Residence program director. “We couldn't have done this without support from the city.”

The Sanitary Fill Co. and the artists both benefit greatly from the program. For the company, the biggest reward is that it gains an opportunity to educate others about garbage and become more involved in the community. For the artists, the inspiration for recycling and environmental concerns also can lead to exposure for their work.

The program, which has been going strong for 13 years, also has found ways to expand. In addition to Artist in Residence, the Box Car Studio is for local art students and parallels the professional program. Although they are not paid, students receive a small work space, full access to site materials and the option to work flexible hours.

With the Artists in Residence program, artists' creations are showcased at the end of their terms. The transfer station hosts a gallery reception at its onsite art studio. There, the public can view and buy pieces of artwork. The shows are becoming more popular as word has spread.

For communities that would like to start a similar program, Fresina advises to start small.

“Start with a low budget, grow the program and see how it goes. Then decide whether to expand the program,” he says. “I think people would quickly realize the benefits.”

And maybe years from now, someone will unearth a work from the Artists in Residence program and think it is as beautiful as the Sphinx.