Trash to treasure at twenty

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Official 20th-anniversary group portrait of Philadelphia's Dumpster Divers, taken April 1, 2012. (I. George Bilyk)

It may have sounded to some like an April Fool's joke, but it was as real as a metal trash can: Yesterday the 20th anniversary of Philly's legendary "trash art" group The Dumpster Divers was marked with a group photo and an official Mayoral Tribute from Michael Nutter.

The celebration was held at the site of the first meeting, April 1, 1992, at the American Diner at 5th and Spring Garden. Silk City diner, which now resides at that location, was gracious enough to allow the Divers to use their premises as the site for their revelry.

The Dumpster Divers' motto is "one man's trash is another man's treasure," and the group has established a name for itself by creating art of trash, recycled materials and found objects, turning traditional notions of artistic beauty and worth on their head while generating some of the most eye-catching and original works of art and craft anywhere. (Disclosure: I was a member of the group from 1994 to 2008. I resigned membership upon launching Earth to Philly so I would be able to chronicle the group's exploits with the crystal-clear eye of objectivity required of all jounalist-bloggers.)

As many members of the group, some decked out in festive, coloful garb, assembled for an official 20th-anniversary photo, the original invitation to a meeting chartering the group was read aloud. In a historical footnote, the original name was to be The Dumpster Diners, as the concept was to meet at area diners to talk about trash-picking finds. But the crew quickly realized this created the impression they were eating out of dumpsters, which was far from the point: Their treasure is trash, not garbage, and Neil Benson, for one, has been at pains ever since to keep this distinction clear.

Soon the Mayoral Tribute itself was read, the photo was snapped and members regrouped to find a place to eat and talk trash. You can see much of how things unfolded in this image gallery.

Some excerpts from the official tribute:

"[F]ew individuals or agencies have taken this initiative [to meet the goal of greenest and most sustainable city] to the level of 'art form' or can claim the longstanding history of recycling held by Philadelphia's Dumpster Divers.

"The Dumpster Divers have made art, exhibited this work in numerous art galleries, and gained the respect and approval of the worldwide art community ... [they] have reached out to Philadelphia's students, organized workshops in schools, implemented special projects in cooperation with art galleries and alternative spaces, and taken action to teach and include local children in their projects.

"On Sunday, April 1 through Saturday, April 7, 2012, the Dumpster Divers will observe their 20th Anniversary of the founding of this pioneering group.

"It is fitting and appropriate, therefore, that the City of Philadelphia officially recognize with this tribute THE DUMPSTER DIVERS OF PHILADELPHIA and urge all citizens to be aware of the ongoing efforts of the Dumpster Divers to ensure Philadelphia's future as a green and sustainable city through recycling while creating original art and craft to enhance Philadelphia's reputation as a premier destination for incomparable arts and culture."

Get more info on who the Divers are, what they've been up to and what they're about to get up to at their web site.

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