The NYC of Department of Sanitation launches open call for New Yorkers to adorn its trucks with large-scale artworks

The New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), a city agency with an “oddly excellent” TikTok presence per Curbed, has revived its Trucks of Art campaign after a three-year hiatus. For the initiative, artistically inclined New Yorkers of all backgrounds and experience levels are invited to submit proposals for mural-based overhauls of a handful of collection trucks within the DSNY’s massive fleet. As noted by the DSNY, each 46,000-pound truck boasts 400 square feet of blank “canvas” located on the front, sides, and rear of the vehicles. In addition to more than 2,000 standard collection trucks, the DSNY fleet is comprised of salt spreaders, snow melters, front-end loaders, dump trucks, mechanical brooms, light-duty vehicles, and dual-bin collection trucks for recyclables. Comprised of 7,500 uniformed sanitation workers, the DSNY is the largest sanitation department in the world, collecting upwards of 24 million pounds of trash and recyclables on a daily basis.

Trucks of Art is a zero-waste endeavor and, as such, selected artists are only permitted to use unwanted household paint to realize their works; the public is invited to donate unwanted paint—in can, spray, or tube form—at a forthcoming SAFE disposal event or at DSNY special waste drop-off locations. These diverted-from-landfill donations will be used by the participating artists to complete their designs, and any remaining paints not used will be properly disposed of. Artists will have to be resourceful given that what type of paint or paint color will be made available by the DSNY all depends on what unwanted materials are donated. Implements such as paintbrushes will be provided.

While the DSNY does not specify how many design proposals will ultimately be selected out of the open call process, the department does note that submissions with recycling or anti-littering themes along with design concepts that pay tribute to “New York’s Strongest” will be given preference. (Three individual artists, a sanitation worker, plus a high school student team were selected out of the nearly 100 applicants that participated in the 2019 edition.)

“Sanitation’s fleet is part of our cityscape – and we’re thrilled for New York City artists to transform collection trucks into roving works of art that will add a bit of flair to our neighborhoods,” said DSNY Commissioner Jessica S. Tisch in a press statement. “We’re excited for local artists to be using our ‘canvasses’ to encourage New Yorkers to keep our City clean.”

The Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) makes clear that Trucks of Art is a volunteer-based public art program and those selected to create rolling murals will be doing so with no compensation for the original artworks or for the subsequent labor involved with painting the hulking vehicles, which will take place over the course of three 7-hour workdays. While the DSNY’s solicitation for gratis art for its fleet certainly didn’t stop New Yorkers and those from further afield from enthusiastic participating in the 2019 iteration of the program, the move has raised some eyebrows this time around.

Graffiti artist Andre Charles called out the DSNY on his Instagram account, noting: “Artists should be paid just like everyone else.” In a subsequent interview with Hyperallergic, Charles said that other artists had been in touch with him after seeing his post and thanked him for pointing out the fine print regarding the lack of compensation.

In addition to its interview with Charles, Hyperallergic published an emailed statement from the DSNY in response. In the statement, a spokesperson clarified that Trucks of Art is “fun, non-commercial, community-based project,” and emphasized that participating artists will retain all rights to their work. “We are excited to work with local artists who want to help add some flair to our neighborhoods,” the spokesperson said.

Expressions of Interest, which must include design mock-ups and two short essays, will be accepted by the DSNY up until September 18. The winning Trucks of Art proposals will be announced in mid-September with paint days to follow later in the month and into October. Each artwork will be sealed with a clear coat to ensure they stay intact for as long as possible. The department will hold a media event to unveil the freshly decorated trucks in mid- to late-October before they are assigned routes and officially hit the streets in rubberneck-inducing high-style later that month.

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