Learning Lab Home


Young Journalists Summer Camp




In the Community




Funding for the Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons was provided by:

  • Dorrance H. Hamilton
  • Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Lincoln Financial Foundation
  • Delaware River Port Authority
  • The ARAMARK Charitable Fund at the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program
  • Arcadia Foundation
  • Bank of America Foundation
  • Priscilla Brown
  • Kyra McGrath
  • Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation

Dumpster Diver Central Video and Audio

Artists use trash and found objects to create masterpieces. Produced by Devon Braunstein, David White, Genevieve Fowler, Reeta Shrestha, and Sydney Iwanski.
Watch the video »

Listen to the mp3 »

Dumpster Diver Central

Text by: David White
Media produced by: Devon Braunstein, David White, Genevieve Fowler, Reeta Shrestha, and Sydney Iwanski

"It's trash," said my mother when I brought home a shopping cart I had laboriously carried home from the beach. "It belongs in a landfill." Crestfallen, I wheeled the rusted piece of metal and rubber to the curb and watched as the garbage truck came to take it away the following morning. I don't recall what I wanted to do with that shopping cart, but I knew it had potential; unlike my mother, the Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia can see the potential in old objects left out on the curb.

Started on April Fool's Day, 1992, the Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia have been collecting trash (they prefer "found objects") from curbs in both urban and suburban environments and turning them into works of art. The group of forty-five artists, based on South Street at Dumpster Diver Central, uses everything from broken ladders to bicycle wheels to keep less garbage in landfills and more on walls and in living rooms. Several pieces of artwork are displayed there, and visitors can purchase items of interest. But the Divers have done more than just make artwork.

"One of the most amazing things that has happened with the diver-art is that we've really inspired a whole lot of people to go home and make art out of stuff," says Joel Spivak, 69 a founder of Dumpster Divers and Philadelphia native. People go into the shop, see the artwork that can be created by taking a broken chair back from the curb, and have fun creating their own masterpieces.

Adam Terk, a coordinator for the greenfest taking place on Septermber 13th on South Street, stopped into Dumpster Diver Central yesterday to pick up supplies for a Diver-inspired activity. "We have this kids' activities section where we take recyclables that according to the city are not recyclable and let them make art with it," says Terk. Included on this list of "non-recyclable" materials are aluminum and plastics 2-6.

Additionally, Spivak believes that the Divers have saved many aspiring artists the trouble of purchasing expensive art supplies to practice their craft. "We have validated the idea that art supplies are not something you need to go to the art supply store for." Most people don't care what happens to their trash once it's out on the curb; basically, there's no charge for dumpster diving or "collecting."

But the organization still uses some supplies. Divers cut, glue, re-heat, and do everything possible to their found objects to sculpt them into visually appealing structures. One member, Ava Blitz, has an entire laboratory (a corner of Dumpster Diver Central) devoted to sculpting Styrofoam. "It's great to take a material that's so unfriendly to the environment and recycle it," says Blitz.

The best-known Dumpster Diver is probably artist Isaiah Zagar, an honorary member of the organization. Though he does not dive for trash himself -"You won't find my feet dangling off the top of a dumpster"-- Zagar has a strong network of donors that supplies him with found objects to use in his art.

"My favorite material to use is mirrors because mirrors reflect the present," Zagar says. Much of Zagar's artwork is made up of mosaic pieces, such as murals, that incorporate recycled glass (bottles and mirrors) to create this effect.

The Dumpster Divers are scoring some points for the environment by reusing materials that the city won't recycle. If the city deems some plastics as "non-recyclable," then those materials will end up in a landfill or incinerator; unless the Dumpster Divers get to them first.