RICHMOND -- Artist Daud Abdullah sees the mundane trash can as much more than place to get rid of things. For Abdullah, it's a canvas for artistic expression and city pride.
"We take trash cans and turn them into treasure boxes," he said.
Abdullah, 53, is a mosaic artist with a history of transforming the ordinary into works of art.
Last month, he received a $3,000 grant from the city to decorate most of its 300 trash cans with his mosaic art with the help of youth artists. He was chosen based on his work decorating two trash cans at Civic Center Plaza. He decorated the bins with mosaic pieces, including one that features Rosie the Riveter and the words, "Richmond we can do it!"
The grant was among $65,000 given to 11 local artists, nonprofits and community groups through the Neighborhood Public Art grant project for public arts and culture provided by the Richmond Arts & Culture Commission.
A 17-year Oakland resident before he relocated to Richmond earlier this year, Abdullah took on his first public art project in Maxwell Park in Oakland a few years ago, serving as a lead artist.
"We had a bathroom (at the park) that was in really bad shape," he said. "It took about five years, but we completely mosaicked the whole building."
He said he wanted his next public art project to avoid a big bureaucratic approval process.
"That's when I found the thing with trash cans," he said. Abdullah decorated about 30 Oakland trash cans before moving on to Richmond.
Abdullah made his first two trash can mosaics earlier this year through the Richmond Art Center after city officials went there looking for artists to decorate trash bins as part of an improvement project.
"They came out great," said Chris Chamberlain, Richmond's Parks and Landscaping superintendent. "The cans look significantly better than the old, plain beat-up trash cans."
The Parks and Landscaping Department is working closely with Abdullah, dropping off and picking up trash cans from him at his Bridge Storage and Art Spaces studio.
After his initial success with the trash can mosaics, Abdullah began teaching mosaic classes at the Richmond Art Center. Working with young, aspiring artists at the center, Abdullah can point to 14 trash cans along the Richmond Greenway that now feature mosaic art alongside building murals and other art pieces.
"That's what I love about the workshops when I teach the youth. It's like, now you're empowering. Now you can have some pride," he said. "That's what it's all about -- to make this a pretty place."
Abdullah said he plans to work with high school students at Kennedy and Richmond to create the next series of trash can mosaics. "I'll give them a quick lesson on how to use all this stuff and let them loose," he said.
Chamberlain said the city plans to place the beautified trash cans near community centers, city buildings and other public places.
Abdullah said he hopes the work will inspire the students to create more art. "Art conveys so much," he said. "Maybe that will steer a wannabe tagger. I don't mind a mosaic tag. Crazily enough, I did some in Oakland myself. I did glass smiley faces on rocks."
For Abdullah, mosaic public artwork can be full of metaphor.
"All the pieces represent the people," he said. "So it's great to be able to do and put it out in the public to see and take something as simple as a trash can and say, 'We can make a trash can look pretty.'"
This article was produced by RichmondConfidential.org, a nonprofit news service based in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.