WINNER: Pimp My Carroça, Thiago Mundano, São Paulo, Brazil, 2007

In São Paulo, 17,000 tons of waste are generated each day, and only 1 percent of it is recycled; but of this recycled material, 90 percent is collected by the 20,000 or so people who man the carroças, the city’s garbage collection carts, picking up refuse day and night and turning it in for money. These unofficial garbage collection workers, the catadores, are generally poor people living at the margins of Brazilian society.

Street artist Mundano approached them, listened to their stories, visited places where they spend time, and basically fell in love with their cause. The project Pimp My Carroça (an allusion to the popular MTV show Pimp My Ride, in which autos are given fancy makeovers) was the result. Mundano and collaborators painted the carts in vibrant colors, decorated them with lively street-art motifs, and added slogans like “I am the champion of recycling.” The idea is to give these underappreciated workers a higher profile and earn them some respect from São Paulo’s 11 million citizens—and to help the catadores more directly too.

The project took place in June 2007, with Mundano in charge of a group of 50 artists and other volunteers putting the catadores and their carroças through a “pit stop” where the carts were decorated and supplied with safety signals and mirrors, and the garbage pickers and their families were given massages, haircuts, meals, medical and ophthalmological check-ups, and psychotherapy if needed. At the end of the day, artists, helpers, and catadores assembled for a demonstration in the city center that called for the municipal government to set up recycling cooperatives.

The project was entirely crowdfunded through Catarse, Brazil’s version of Kickstarter.

The jury felt that the project fulfills its aesthetic and social aims equally, contributing to a sense of place in São Paulo by promoting cleanliness, recycling and sanitation, but also by building a new sense of common purpose, connectivity, and pride between the workers and other citizens and creating a mechanism for dialogue between these underappreciated workers and the rest of society.

For more detail on the history of the International Award for Public Art, please go to www.instituteforpublicart.org.