From the front gate, Revolution Recovery looks like any other dump. Trucks are constantly pulling off I-95 and unloading mini-mountains of junk - about 350 tons a day.
But the Northeast Philadelphia recycling center also is an established wellspring of creativity through the nonprofit Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR), founded in 2010.
Now, with the help of a $60,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the recycling dump has become a performance venue where RAIR continues to blur the lines between trash and art, and raise awareness about sustainability.
"It is hazardous, but if you know how to navigate the site, there is unlimited potential," said Lucia Thomé, RAIR's director of special projects.
RAIR recently hosted two movie nights at Revolution Recovery, using a giant piece of spandex stretched between two excavators as a screen for Wall-E and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Combined, they drew nearly 300 people who relaxed on Astroturf laid out in the middle of the junkyard.
"It was very surreal, but people had a great time," Thomé said.
Next month, artist Martha McDonald, whose work has been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, will perform her sold-out "Songs of Memory and Forgetting," which RAIR has billed as an "intimate song tour of the site, navigating through the sorting piles to explore the fragile nature of memory."
McDonald, who has spent six months in residence at the recycling center, collaborated with RAIR cofounder Billy Dufala on the music, which will be performed with instruments found at the site.
"I'm looking for a better boom box, FYI," Dufala said last week, as he walked through a fresh pile of material while eating Rita's Water Ice.
TVs. A sewing machine. A hula hoop. Half-full bottles of wine. A certificate of completion from a sobriety program. A plastic swimming pool. Kid Rock CDs. Cable boxes. A bobblehead doll.
All of it unloaded by a single 1-800-Got-Junk truck. The trucks are particularly popular among RAIR artists, who have used found material for everything from cyanotype prints of sidewalk tree grates to a slick 17-foot flat-bottom boat called the "Want Knot."
"It was a good-looking boat," Thomé said.
She hopes that "Live at the Dump" is just the beginning of RAIR's live performances. She said the organization is in talks with other artists, and hopes to obtain more funding.
"Now that we have this under our belt, I think we feel much more capable to host more things like this," she said.
In the artist's studio last week, Fishtown resident Jaime Alvarez was spraying appliances, toys, and other items with bright linen paint for a photo exhibit, while listening to Khmer folk and pop music from the Cambodian Cassette Archives.
"We just found a Mr. Magoo head," Alvarez said, "which is awesome."
"He gets pretty excited when the 1-800-Got-Junk truck comes through," Thomé confided.
From the loading dock of the second-floor studio, you can catch a glimpse of the Delaware River. Large swaths of the property are covered in a thin layer of gray muck, the by-product of misted-down dust. But they accept only "clean waste" (free of trash) from construction and demolition sites and house cleanouts.
After a quick visit, the creative potential smacks you in the face like the next cloud of dust. There are stories among the junk.
"I think it's kind of beautiful here," Thomé said, "even though it's the dump."