An Interview with Debra Greenblat

Written by Allie Kleinman

Walking around Durango, Colorado you may notice some pops of color in unexpected places (and no, it’s not the stunning scenery we’re talking about) – throughout the city, dumpsters decorated in beautiful designs might catch your eye. These brightly decorated dumpsters are part of The Dumpster Beautification Project, a community based non-profit that brings together local artists, at-risk youth, and people of all ages to design and paint WCA (Waste Corporation America) dumpsters. The mission of The Dumpster Beautification Project is to bring art to unexpected places and give artists a forum to show their work, as well as to involve young adults in building positive connections to their community.

The brains behind The Dumpster Beautification Project is founder and director Debra Greenblat. Cycling around Durango in 2008, Ms. Greenblat noticed an increase of graffiti on the buildings and dumpsters downtown. As a casual graffiti artist with a belief that public art is for the masses, her idea was born and she approached WCA to gage their interest, and get their permission, in allowing artists to decorate the dumpsters. Upon approval from the WCA, Ms. Greenblat presented the idea to the City of Durango and received grants to help fund the project. The first dumpster was painted in the summer of 2009. I sat down with Ms. Greenblat to learn more about the project, her inspirations, and her thoughts on art. Read on to learn all about it!

A: Is there an artist or movement that you’re inspired by?

D: I grew up in the NYC area during the heyday of subway car graffiti and always liked “Claw” for being a woman in that world and for her visual depictions rather than just words. I then lived in LA during the 80’s and loved the murals that were happening throughout the region. As for artists that inspired me, Picasso because he never stopped growing as an artist and was willing embraced uncharted territory.

A: How does the dumpster beautification project recruit new artists to design an image for the dumpster? Does the artist act as the director of the project?

D: The DBP has worked with the local probation department and the local youth incarceration center to recruit artists and painters that want some community service hours and a chance to express themselves visually without fear of arrest. The DBP has also reached out to local artists via word of mouth or advertisements to design and/or paint an image. The artists is free to do this by themselves or to design an image that the community will paint. They are encouraged to mentor the painters on technique and design practices. The director of the DBP (me) supervises the painting process.

A: Do you have a favorite dumpster beautification project (whether it’s relating to the actual design or the overall experience of working together)?

D: I love the way random people walking through the alley react to the painting of the dumpsters. My favorite story is that I approached a young artist at a local street fair once and asked him if he would be interested in designing a dumpster. He was and designed a dumpster that a group of kids ages 4-14 painted. After they were finished painting, the artist asked if it would be okay if he embellished the painting with some spray paint. The kids were fascinated and I asked him if he would like to practice his art by spraying designs on dumpsters on his own. He did and he has painted about 20 dumpsters on his own in Durango while perfecting his art. A couple of years ago, he moved to Denver to work at his art more full-time and to become part of the vibrant graffiti artist community there. He stills comes back to Durango to paint or re-paint a couple of dumpsters per year. I love that the project gave him the canvas and the freedom to practice what he loves doing. His name is Brian Raymond Simmonds (brianraymondsimmonds.com)

A: What do you love about your work or your role in the art community?

D: I love meeting teenagers that are energized by art. I appreciate that the local art community has found ways to help sponsor the project. Last year the local arts center honored the DBP and myself for the contributions the project has made in the community by making me a “Sweetheart of the Arts”.

A: Do you hope to take the dumpster beautification project to other cities throughout Colorado?

D: I have had other communities approach me as to how to start a similar project in their city. While I would love to take the show on the road, it takes more planning than I have time for. I have been mentoring local groups on their mural projects and I hope one of them with take the “baton” and run with the project. I am 62 years old, I love what I have done but I think it is okay for the next generation to improve on my project.

The Dumpster Beautification Project certainly delivers on its mission and Ms. Greenblat is an inspiration to us all. As Ms. Greenblat states, “you don’t have to go to a gallery or museum to see vibrant art”. So true. I think I’ll book my next trip to Durango, Colorado!

Check out some of their past projects on The Dumpster Beautification homepage.

Special thanks to Allie for writing this post!

About Allie Kleinman

Originally from Chicago, Allie moved to Santa Monica 5 years ago and now proudly calls sunny SoCal home. She works in the travel industry and enjoys writing on the side. She was drawn to Beautify Earth for its mission and wants to help spread the word about public art and its positive influence on a community.