Diving for Treasures

The Dumpster Divers, a local loose-knit group of artists, are finding success in creating art from Philadelphia's trash.

Making jewelry out of typewriter keys, trolleys from materials such as wood and banisters, and giant animal sculptures from car parts, the Divers scour the trash for items that fit their artistic “niche,” then exhibit their artwork as a group about once a year.

An important distinction, according to member Neil Benson, is that the artists are in the trash business, not the garbage business. “Most [artists] won't even get into a mixed dumpster, like [outside of] a restaurant,” he says.

The Divers' goal is to dispute the notions that trash is a necessity of life and that it won't ever go away. “Trash is simply a failure of imagination,” Benson says.

The group has a loose-knit exchange, called Please Take M.E. (materials exchange), where artists can trade unwanted items for more desirable ones.

Some may think the idea is a bit strange, but the Divers have thrived over the past 10 years, adding members and gaining recognition. “If one person does something, he's crazy. If two people do it, they're both crazy. But if 20 people do it, it's a movement,” Benson says.

Sources: cdavid hall-cottrill, director for the Creative Artists Resource Project, and Neil Benson