Bird art elevates Pacific Beach’s humble trash cans

Seeing bird life in the wetlands and on the beaches of Pacific Beach is not unusual; however, some of the feathered creatures are now often spotted on one of the community’s busiest streets.

In this case, it is not the result of climate change or habitat takeover. Rather, they are images of some of the PB birds that can now be seen in the form of plaques placed on trash cans along Garnet Avenue.

The aptly named Explore PB’s Wild Side program is a public art project by beautifulPB designed to highlight the flora and fauna of Pacific Beach. At the moment the focus of the project is birds.

Organizers said they hope that by installing creative and whimsical art in the streetscape, residents will be encouraged to explore and care for their natural environment.

A great blue heron and Anna’s hummingbird, designed by Hilary Dufour, share space in this decorated trash can on Garnett Avenue in Pacific Beach.

(Photo courtesy of beautifulPB)

“The idea came about when one of our volunteers, who is very passionate about bringing more art to PB, had an idea at the same time as our student artist Makenna Saylor, (who) had to design her community service project,” explained Katie Matchett, beautiful PB President.

She explained that all eighth graders at Pacific Beach Middle School have to do a community service project that they design themselves. BeautifulPB is often asked to help with artistic endeavors, whether by students or adults, and tries to help as much as it can.

To start the project, beautifulPB joined Discover PB, as the latter owned the trash cans. It also partners with the San Diego Audubon Society.

“We often partner with the SD Audubon Society, and in this case they gave us a list of birds to highlight as a starting point,” Matchett said. “By adding the decoration to the bins, it adds more interest to the street space and helps even the bins look better.”

Belding's Savannah Sparrow designed by Kyla Yu-Swanson as part of a mural on the UCSD Kendall-Frost Marsh trailer.

A close-up of Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, originally designed by Kyla Yu-Swanson as part of a mural on the UCSD Kendall-Frost Marsh trailer when she was a student.

(Photo courtesy of beautifulPB)

The group wanted to select birds living in the diverse habitats around PB, such as swamps, canyons and the ocean, to draw attention to these unique areas.

“Because Kendall-Frost Marsh Preserve, for example, is in one particular corner of PB, I think it’s easy to forget that we have really valuable habitat with unique and special species,” Matchett said. “It’s not always front and center that so many different habitats are just a few blocks from our main street.”

Seiler designed four of the birds; brown pelican, tern, double-crested cormorant and ridgeway rail.

Kayla Yu-Swanson originally created Belding’s Savannah Sparrow as part of a mural on the UCSD Kendall-Frost Marsh trailer when she was a student.

“The trailer that was used by researchers and students is being replaced by a building,” Matchett said. “The trailer is covered in a large mural. We photographed all art in case it could not be preserved in any other way. We removed the image of a bird from the mural; it was painted a long time ago.’

Two adult artists also participated in the project.

“Local artist David Kimmel painted a black-crowned night heron. And artist Hilary Dufour painted several images, including a moon, a great blue heron and Anna’s hummingbird,” she said.

A common loon designed by artist Hilary Dufour.

A common loon designed by artist Hilary Dufour.

(Photo courtesy of beautifulPB)

Community volunteer Leslie Dufour works on the project and is Hilary’s mother.

“My daughter is a professional artist, so of course I’m proud of her, but I’m extremely proud of all of them,” she said. “It’s really nice to have some art from adults and kids and let the community know that people care.”

Matchett said for any beautification project, one of the ultimate goals is to create more pride and ownership for those living in the community.

“It’s also a push to remind people that using the trash cans can help prevent trash from winding up in storm drains and then into our ocean,” she said. “We also hope that people will be more careful about recycling.

So far, the plaques are only on eight bins, all on Garnet Avenue.

“We put them on every block from Mission Boulevard to Ingraham,” she said.

Figuring out the best “canvas” for the piece was a bit of a challenge, Matchett said. In the end, they decided to have the work printed on aluminum plates.

Dufour said it took a large investment of time to find the right approach to art.

She tested several different metal plates because any graphite had to be easily removed, the plates had to be flexible to go around the boxes, and they had to be durable enough to withstand the local climate.

PB Middle School student Makena Seiler designed the double-crested cormorant that adorns a community trash can.

Pacific Beach Middle School student Makena Seiler designed the double-crested cormorant that adorns a community trash can.

(Photo courtesy of beautifulPB)

The artwork is attached to the trash cans in such a way that it is not easy to remove, but the plates can be replaced over time if they fade or become damaged.

Dufour said she had fun placing at least one trash can next to a certain business.

“I thought it was funny to put the black-crowned night heron next to the Insomnia cookies,” she said, explaining that they were both out at night.

As the new school year begins at the end of August, representatives of beautifulPB said they hope Wild Side’s Explore PB project will continue to grow.

“We’re hoping it moves into more birds and wildlife, even plants and habitats, and even beyond the trash cans,” Matchett said, adding that the organization has no specific plans in mind.

“Now that we have the ideas, the layout and the plans, we hope to have a new crop of eighth graders to add to the art, as well as more senior artists,” she said. “The art on the boxes is a small thing, but it touches many important areas for our community.”

For more information about beautifulPB’s Explore PB’s Wild Side program, visit or email [email protected]

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