WASHINGTON - It's hard to miss some of the trash and recycling trucks rumbling through the streets of Washington. Twenty five of them are covered with colorful artwork, ranging from birds, flowers and butterflies to abstract images.

As some sanitation workers do the dirty job of dumping trash into one of those trucks, their job is made a bit more pleasant by rolling along with Shelby, the name of one Department of Public Works trash vehicle bearing vibrant abstract art. 

'I like the attention'

“It is real fun. It gets us more attention. I like the attention,” said truck driver, Sanders Wright.

Wright is proud of the truck, which is wrapped with a vinyl copy of an original painting, highlighted with the head of a woman with one eye, a house and a bird. Wright, who is married with 11 children, said he'd never reveal who Shelby is named after but he has been riding with the truck for several years. His only criticism of the painting is that he wishes Shelby had two eyes.

Shelby and some of the other art-covered trucks began hitting the streets five years ago. They are part of a city initiative to promote recycling, while showcasing local artist talent. The original paintings, drawings and mixed media are copied onto large pieces of vinyl that are placed on the trucks.

As Sanders maneuvers the truck through narrow alleys, residents enjoy watching Shelby passing by.

“It is pretty cool,” said one woman who brought out her trash can. “Adds some color to the neighborhood.”

People are friendlier

Wright said people have become friendlier since the art initiative began, getting to know the workers by name and even bringing them cookies and other treats.

“It makes you feel good that you have some citizens come out or the children say, ‘Hey, that is a nice truck. I like that art. I like your truck.’ And you just toot the horn or wave to them thank you.”

“I think the art design of the truck is really nice,” said a Washington resident from Senegal who takes a moment to admire Shelby. “It is another opportunity for an artist to show what he can do.”

Recently wrapped

And that includes artist Michael Crossett, who back at the yard where the trucks are parked, is looking at a truck that was recently wrapped with one of his paintings.

Crossett likes the publicity his painting of a gritty urban landscape of Washington in mostly red and black will get. He's pleased the image will be seen in “diverse communities all over the city,” noting it will get more exposure than it would in an art gallery.

Crossett painted the original image over photos of the city that include the U.S. Capitol and a Metro train.

“It is actually a combination of probably 250 images," Crossett explained. “Then it was digitized to be placed on the truck.”

He said the painting shows the vibrancy of Washington.

“The international view of Washington, D.C. is so political, and it is a different world when you live here, so my paintings generally show the street life and the energy that is D.C.,” said Crossett.

The artist said he welcomes the predictable dirt and trash on the painting.

“I actually use images of grit or images of concrete to gritty up my work, so in the end, I think this is the perfect kind of marriage, where some trash will add to the color of my art,” Crossett said and laughed.