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Exhibit Showcases Discarded Items Collected by Retired Sanitation Worker

“What is Here is Open: Selections from the Treasures in the Trash Collection” is inspired by discarded items found by retired East Harlem sanitation worker Nelson Molina.

The Foundation for New York’s Strongest, the official nonprofit of the City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY), Hi-ARTS and the Hunter East Harlem Gallery recently opened an art exhibition inspired by discarded items found by retired East Harlem sanitation worker Nelson Molina. The exhibition, “What is Here is Open: Selections from the Treasures in the Trash Collection,” is on view until September 14 at the Hunter East Harlem Gallery.

For more than 30 years, Molina was assigned to routes in Manhattan 11, a district bordered by 96th Street and 110th Street between First and Fifth Avenues. While on his assigned collection route, he found many useful and even collectible objects; some that needed repair and others that were fully intact. Over the years, Molina recovered and mended some 40,000 items, displaying the still city-owned items inside a DSNY garage and slowly creating the Treasures in the Trash Collection.

Curator Alicia Grullón designed the exhibition to be a collaborative process beginning with seven New York City-based artists taking inspiration from the Treasures in the Trash collection. After they produced their pieces, Molina, along with Grullón, returned to Treasures in the Trash and chose objects to be displayed alongside the artists’ works. By creating these unique installations, the exhibit seeks to create a conversation between these reclaimed objects and artistic pieces, engaging in a dialogue on the past, present and future identity of the community.

This is a first-of-its-kind collaboration for the Foundation for New York’s Strongest, presenting a unique opportunity to not only showcase the work of one of its former employees but also celebrate the practice of salvage and reuse, which is critical to the agency’s mission of zero waste to landfills. 

“With our focus on sustainability, Molina’s collection exemplifies the creative spirit of reuse and a ‘waste not, want not’ mentality that is ultimately good for the planet,” said Julie Raskin, executive director of the Foundation for New York’s Strongest, in a statement.

The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET, July through August 14, and it will reopen Wednesday through Saturday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET, in mid-August. Admission is free.

Flip through this gallery to view some of the photos from the exhibit’s opening night reception.

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