Arts & Theater

Dumpsters become art objects in Sacramento’s Power Inn area

A new public art project on Power Inn Road uses dumpsters, a symbol of the area’s reputation as Sacramento’s aging industrial center, to show visitors that the neighborhood has a creative side as well.

“The Art of the Dumpster” features 10 industrial-size waste receptacles transformed by regional painters and sculptors into eye-catching works of art. These enormous pieces will sit just feet from Power Inn Road and its 45,000 daily commuters until Aug. 30.

The project’s sponsor, the Power Inn Alliance, a coalition of neighborhood businesses and property owners, commissioned the public art in an effort to rebrand Power Inn without abandoning its past. Sally Freedlander, who sits on the board of the Alliance and planned the project, said the area has a rich history as a hub for waste management companies.

“We thought we’d look at our history and see what makes us interesting, and take that history and make it into something creative that would catch the public’s attention,” Freedlander said.

The project is part of a long-term effort by the Power Inn Alliance to revamp the area, now dotted with warehouses and empty lots. The group hopes to develop the neighborhood along Power Inn Road into a research and biotech hub. Planners envision companies establishing ties to nearby California State University, Sacramento. The first step: extending Ramona Avenue to connect the Sacramento State campus to the Power Inn area. Jerry Vorpahl, executive director of the Power Inn Alliance, said construction on the $10 million road extension will likely begin in 2016.

In the meantime, Vorpahl sees “Art of the Dumpster” as a way to create positive chatter around Power Inn. He hopes the exhibit will draw visitors in a way existing attractions can’t.

“No one comes shopping in Power Inn, unless you’re an industrialist,” Vorpahl said. “This gives it a fun, human flavor.”

While the completion of the planned Sacramento Center for Innovation may be a decade down the line, visitors can check out the dumpsters at 3101 Power Inn Road any day of the week. On Second Saturdays in June, July and August, visitors will be able to dine at food trucks and check out the inside of the two dumpsters with painted interiors.

“What we want the public to hear is that here in the heart of Sacramento, we’re doing really interesting things and we want to invite the public in to see who we are,” Freedlander said. “To see how creative we can be.”

Freedlander came up with the idea to use dumpsters as a medium for a large-scale public art project last year. Waste management companies in the area donated the dumpsters and Sacramento Regional Transit allowed the large, empty lot it owns across the street from a light-rail station to serve as the dumpsters’ summer home.

The Power Inn Alliance teamed up with the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission to curate the exhibit. Shelly Willis, executive director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, selected a mix of emerging and established artists, working in a variety of media, for the show.

The 10 artists began work on their dumpsters in March, using a large warehouse donated by a real estate company as a studio. Artists agreed that the dumpsters presented some unique challenges. First of all, they’re big.

“Covering that large an area, it’s an undertaking,” artist Jim Piskoti said.

Many of the artists were accustomed to painting on flat surfaces, so the dumpsters’ ribs and metal outcroppings complicated designs. And unlike traditional canvases, dumpsters aren’t made to be coated in fine art. John Paul Berger covered his dumpster with a narrative scene involving snakes capturing a bird, and likened painting on the dumpster to painting on an English muffin.

On Tuesday, a day after the art was moved to the exhibition space, Atlas Disposal managers came to see how the four dumpsters they donated had been transformed. Nick Sikich, Atlas’ chief operating officer, said the company plans to eventually reclaim the $5,000 dumpsters. But painter Joy Bertinuson had cut slices of metal from her dumpster’s walls and folded them inward to create tables and chairs. The receptacle no longer looks capable of performing trash collection duty.

“Maybe we could use it for special events,” Sikich said. “We could serve food through the openings.”

Though some of the transformed dumpsters may never return to regular use, Sikich is pleased with the exhibit. “As opposed to just a plain old, ugly dumpster that takes up a huge area, now you have some great art,” he said.

At the end of the summer, Freedlander hopes to find places throughout the Power Inn area to keep the painted dumpsters on display for a year or so. After that, many of them will once again be filled with garbage. Piskoti said he hopes the dumpsters’ owners don’t remove the paint.