By Maddie Orton
At Terracycle headquarters in Trenton, there’s graffiti on everything. It’s not vandalism, it’s art. And once a year, artists from all over gather for Jersey Fresh Jam to use the exterior as a large and legal canvas.
Tom Szaky is founder and CEO of the upcycling company. “Terracycle tries to bring solutions to garbage where there are no solutions currently,” he says. “As a consumer, your only choice is to throw it out, so we give special collection platforms and then we have really high-end solutions to turn them into new things.”
If candy wrappers, bottles and bags are ephemeral, so is graffiti — often unsanctioned and painted over by the authorities. So for the company and artists alike, the partnership makes sense — and it’s symbiotic.
“Having color, energy, openness and just free flow of thought makes everything work better compared to, imagine, the gray cubicles many people know,” says Szaky.
“Graffiti has always been one of those things where it’s going to be done illegally or legally, either way,” says Jersey Fresh Jam co-founder and artist Leon Rainbow. “So if you push people towards the legal way, you’ll have more of that.”
Just like its waste, Terracycle’s walls are reused giving artists a chance to make their mark over and over.
Leon Rainbow and Will Kasso work with their crew, Vicious Styles, to curate the walls. They helped start Jersey Fresh Jam nine years ago.
“This was a spot where we could come and be ourselves and we didn’t have to worry about anything,” says Will Kasso, fellow Jersey Fresh Jam co-founder and artist. “It was also a space where we could bring out other artists in our network to come out and rock.”
The festival’s grown to include over 50 artists from New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, D.C., Chicago and even Toronto and Japan.
“What we do is really — it sounds corny — but it’s art for art’s sake,” says Leon Rainbow. “There’s no contest, there’s no prizes, it’s just everybody getting together for the pure love of the art form and to push it forward.”
It’s working. The graffiti community’s growth can be seen on the streets of Trenton. In recent years, crews began working with Trenton Downtown Association and other organizations to create murals. And despite the reputation graffiti can have, artists aren’t receiving any push back from the city or the community.
“They realize that we’re coming in and we’re really trying to beautify the community, and a lot of it we’re really doing on our own dime,” Leon Rainbow says. That momentum sprung from the camaraderie fostered by Jersey Fresh Jam.
For artists like Skeme, the event is a big deal. Skeme’s a graffiti legend in his own right having started tagging in 1979. He traveled from Harlem to be here. “A lot of kids, and people in general, turn to graffiti because they’re looking for self-expression,” he says. “But, they can’t do it in school because the art programs or the funding has been cut, so where do you turn? This is it. This is our art galleries, this is our art class.”
Terracycle’s eye-catching walls can be seen in their new reality TV series, “Human Resources,” on the Pivot network. And, yes, there’s a graffiti episode.