By Ilana DeBare
They started out as boring, nondescript, too-often-ignored trash cans.
But now they are bright spots of bird art in downtown Oakland!
A neighborhood group in Old Oakland is in the middle of a campaign to spruce up their street-corner garbage cans with mosaics featuring Bay Area birds.
So far, artist Juan Lopez of New World Mosaics has created images of Great Blue Herons, Western Tanagers, hummingbirds, California Quail, and Great Horned Owls, while neighborhood residents created a Picasso-style peace dove.
The mosaic project was designed partly to give people a bright, hard-to-miss reminder about where to put their trash.
“Those cans have been there since the 1950s,” said Tiffany Eng, a member of Old Oakland Neighbors who helped start the project. “They’re so ugly, so ubiquitous, and people don’t use them. The idea is if people see them, they will use them.”
An additional goal was to build community and memorialize a corner where, several years ago, there had been a shooting. Old Oakland is the section of the city between downtown and I-880, known for its beautifully restored Victorians.
“There was a pretty violent shooting and we wanted to create a peace dove,” Eng said. “We wanted to do something iconic and came up with using the birds of Oakland and the Bay Area. We liked the idea of transformation since this is a neighborhood in transformation. We’ve got Swan’s Marketplace [a restored food emporium], which is an ugly duckling turned swan.”
The group raised several thousand dollars for the initial mosaics from the Alameda County Clean Water Program, the City of Oakland’s graffiti abatement program, and Eng’s employer, Capital Impact Partners. They have enough money so far to do six or eight cans, and hope to complete a total of 17 through individual donations to a crowdfunding campaign.
Which birds are next? Organizers are taking suggestions, but some likely candidates are Black-crowned Night-Herons (the focus of Golden Gate Audubon Society’s recent educational campaign and art flash mob), Snowy Egrets, and Western Bluebirds.
They’re also seeking suggestions for a suitable bird for a trash can near the Mexicali Rose restaurant. Got any ideas for a colorful bird that loves rose bushes? Or one that migrates between Mexico and the Bay Area? Click here to email Old Oakland Neighbors.
We at Golden Gate Audubon are always delighted to discover new bird art… especially a project like this that brings the beauty of wildlife into an otherwise gritty, mundane spot like a corner trash can.
“We want these to be place-making,” Eng said. “We want people to say, “I’ll meet you at the hummingbird.’”