ECOSS’ resident brownfields expert, Emery Bayley, recently had the whole office abuzz with an unlikely new piece of office décor: a soup can full of dirt. This was not just any can of dirt, but a creative brownfields clean-up solution from collaborative art trio SuttonBeresCuller. Doubling as an art piece and accompanied by a fun video, the cans (which are available for purchase) are filled with contaminated dirt from the site of a former gas station in Georgetown. The cans both remove dirt from the site as part of remediation efforts and raise awareness about SuttonBeresCuller’s community-enhancing vision.
Across from Boeing Field, the station stored fuel for Boeing during World War II. The gas station went out of business in the 1970s. The site has subsequently been home to a dry cleaners and other businesses. Since 2008, SuttonBeresCuller has worked with ECOSS, the King County Brownfields Program, and the EPA to conduct environmental assessments of the site. In 2013, they formed the nonprofit Mini Mart City Park, which purchased the site for remediation. This innovative project—which ultimately will transform the site into a pocket park, public sculpture, and community center—“blurs the lines between public art, architecture, environmental activism and green design,” as SuttonBeresCuller put it. The goal is to provide not only provide public green space to the community, but a potential new model for small site brownfield remediation. Get your can of dirt today while supplies last!
First of all, I’m not sure how a paint can with a colorful label on it constitutes “art,” but that’s not really my point. This dirt is contaminated (as the article says) and is being sold (innovative, maybe, a bit shady, definitely) to whomever decides to purchase one. My issue is, what happens when that individual, business, what have you, decides that they don’t want the “art” any longer? The answer: they toss is in the trash which then goes to a landfill and spreads this contaminated material further.
Doesn’t really seem like a solution to me!
John, thank you for your comment. Generating discussion is exactly what we were hoping for when we highlighted this project.
What is art? This is a highly subjective question that has been debated for a long time. Your mileage may vary on this particular piece, but it seeks to stimulate and provoke new ways of looking at things and seeing the world around us, which many would argue is exactly what art is and should do.
What happens when you toss the “contaminated dirt” in the landfill? This is a valid concern, and would be a problem if the amount and contamination level of the dirt was enough to make the project illegal. However, we are talking about a relatively small amount of dirt from the relatively clean surface. There are also clear warnings on the label not to open the cans. Because of these precautions, contamination of the landfill is highly unlikely.
It’s worth pointing out that these soup cans of dirt are only part of a larger effort by SuttonBeresCuller to clean up the site and transform it into a usable community asset. They are working with the County to clean up the site according to Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) regulations. The primary aim of the cans is to generate awareness for the project as a whole. In fact, according to the cans themselves, it would take over 5 million of them to clean the site. Your concerns highlight the challenges of brownfield revitalization and the fact that there is no way to truly throw something away on our finite planet. The dirt has to go somewhere. The fact that a group of artists are taking the time and making the effort to clean up a contaminated site is unusual and noteworthy.