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Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

    Artists beautify Oakland trash cans

    by Saskia Hatvany


    A mosaic trash can in progress near the Lake Merritt Pergola in Oakland. The Mayan-inspired artwork was created by local artist Jesse Medina and installed with the help of volunteers in October 2017. (Photos by Saskia Hatvany)

    Oakland is known for its street art — it can be found on everything from walls to telephone poles to buildings. Even the city’s trash cans are decorated with unique mosaic artwork.

    When Jesse Medina moved to Oakland in 2012 he was inspired by the creative spirit of the city and sought to get involved in community projects. This led him to attend the Laurel Street Fair, where he met mosaic artist Roberto Costa.

    Costa, is a self-taught mosaic artist who was inspired to start decorating the trash cans after he visited Arcata, Humboldt County, in 2008 where he noticed that some of the city trash cans had been tiled by local artists. At the time, Costa was part of an urban beautification project in Oakland’s Maxwell Park and proposed the idea of decorating the cans.

    Thanks to the dedication of volunteer artists, the mosaic trash can project quickly spread. As part of the project, Medina learned valuable skills and fell in love with the work.

    “No other cities that I know of have as much mosaic work, except maybe Barcelona,”

    He believes mosaic street art is special because it is particularly durable. “Tile is made by using all four elements — fire, earth, water and air — so it can withstand floods, earthquakes and fires,” Medina said.

    Each trash can takes about 20 to 40 hours to complete, but they last upwards of 20 years before they start to deteriorate. Medina now works for a stained glass company, but still finds time to work on public projects. To date, he has tiled nine trash cans on his own and several more in groups.

    His most recent piece is by the Lake Merritt Pergola. One side depicts a bird with its wings spread, the other a fiery sun with a face. Medina was inspired by the birds that live in the Lake Merritt Bird Sanctuary nearby.

    These ornate trash cans can be spotted in almost every neighborhood Oakland neighborhood. The artwork has become a defining characteristic of the town and does not go unnoticed by visitors. “No other cities that I know of have as much mosaic work, except maybe Barcelona,” Medina said.

    The city estimates that there are now over 200 decorated trash cans. The success was largely made possible by “Adopt a Spot,” a volunteer program of the City of Oakland.

    Adopt a Spot originated 30 years ago from a desire to achieve “a cleaner and greener Oakland.” Volunteers can adopt parts of their neighborhood to help maintain and clean them.

    Anyone can apply for a permit to adopt city-owned property such as storm drains, electrical boxes, trash cans and more. Unlike murals, which undergo a much longer process and need approval from the city’s Public Arts Commission, adopting a trash can or electrical box for decoration is streamlined by Adopt a Spot.

    Another way to get funding is through “Keep Oakland Beautiful,” an affiliate of the non-profit “Keep America Beautiful.” The organization offers up to $800 per grant and has been a key contributor to the mosaic project.


    Saskia Hatvany is a writer and photographer for The Laney Tower

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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