Calling All Pick-Up Artists

This weekend a band of creative artists are embarking on a community quest: cleaning public spaces — and relaxing afterwards by making art inspired by the locations they’ve cleaned.

Enviro-conscious New Haven artist Zoe Matthiessen is putting the campaign together. Here’s an interview detailing what it’s all about, and how people can get involved.

Tell us about Pick-Up Artists.
I’m organizing a group of artists interested in cleaning up the trash around us, and creating art together afterwards. We will target heavily littered locations, clean them up, then celebrate by sketching, painting and photographing the beautiful place we’ve just cleaned. Not only is it an environmental act of kindness, it brings together artists who share a mutual concern for this issue. My hope is to make this an ongoing project and that it will lead to doing at least one cleanup event every month. I’ll even bring vegan cookies and banana bread!

What started all this?
For years I’d spent much of my time wandering around in the woods of East Rock with my sketch book, drawing all my favorite trees, trails and secret spots. When Trump was elected, everything changed — I have been mainly drawing trash, in some form or another, since then. On the last Earth Day, an artist friend invited me to join her on a cleanup at Long Wharf. It was my first, and I found it an absolute thrill. What better a way to erase all the trash I’d been so preoccupied with? I wanted to do it again the next day. I made the joke a few times that an artist who picks up trash would be a “Pick-Up Artist” and then it all made sense. Why not? There are plenty of artists who groan at trash when on an outdoor sketch. Why not bring a few of us together? Why just complain—why not make a little dent?

Who is involved?
Pick-Up Artists has partnered with New Haven Department of Parks, Recreation & Trees, which has been very supportive of the concept. They are providing tools, supplies, and training and will handle trash disposal after the event. Though fellow Pick-Up Artists are encouraged to brings their favorite tools of the trade to create with, Artist & Craftsman Supply has generously donated art materials which will be available to the artists who participate in the cleanup.

Who are you?
I’m a self-taught artist living in New Haven, creating art that reflects my frustrations — and my hope: that we can do better, that we can make a difference and that the small decisions we make every day can make a significant impact. I have accepted the fact that while I can’t change the world I can certainly improve my community. I love New Haven. It’s my home! I love it enough to get out there and clean it up with like-minded people and have some fun while doing it.

How many are in the group so far?
It’s hard to say; I’m estimating 10-15 so far. If only five of us show up, I’ll see that as a small victory and not a bad first effort. Picking up trash is not a glamorous thing to promote! I’ve gotten a fair response through a newly created Facebook page, have set up Instagram, have displayed posters, and posted flyers at art supply shops, cafes and galleries… I’ve run ads. I’ve done what I can to get the word out — now it’s just a matter of people coming through, telling their friends, and showing up to the event if interested. I hope my enthusiasm is shared with other people who, like me, would like to see a cleaner and environmentally healthier New Haven.

Can you describe to the artists what kind of art will be created after the cleanup?
Some people might be inspired by the pristine location we’ve just cleaned; others may prefer to focus on the trash we collect. Who knows? Using paints, inks, pastels, pencil, camera in hand… anything is possible. Maybe someone will make art out of the trash itself and really bring it full circle — whatever floats your boat. 

What events are scheduled?
The first is this Saturday, Sept 29th at noon, at the Long Pond entrance to Edgewood Park. There is a great deal of trash on the road side of the park. After it’s handled, we will gather at the pond for relaxing and art-making (and my vegan cookies and banana bread).
The second event is Sat, Oct 20th at Quinnipiac River Park, also at noon.

Bring your Mom! Bring your Dad! Bring your kids and cousins! Bring your sketch book, pens, and paper! Most importantly, bring yourself and join me in doing something that benefits everyone in the community. Let’s make a difference—and have a good time doing it. (All three of us!)

How does one reach the Pick-Up Artists headquarters for needed info?

FACEBOOK: @NHpickupartist

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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posted by: Bill Saunders on September 28, 2018  1:09pm

This is ‘program’, while well intended, is poorly named given the current political climate.

posted by: Ryn111 on September 28, 2018  3:02pm

Great idea and I will be there!

I do love how her concern with trash started after trump was elected… lol, come on!

@Bill, really?! I guess everything offends someone! Come up with a better name.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 29, 2018  1:33am

You tell me how it reads, Ryn? 

A poster advertising a community event that invites KIDS is called “Pick Up Artists”.

That message works only on one flimsy level—the artist’s personal, mis-construed, cutesy, mis-interpretation of it.
Unfortunately, the real meaning of ‘Pick-Up Artist’ only goes to invite predators and demean women.

Be careful what you ask for, and pay extra-special attention when you are dealing with kids.
Zoe needs to be more aware, as do you Ryn.

As I said in my initial post, I think the program is well-intended, but the messaging is horrible.

posted by: Zardoz1974 on September 30, 2018  12:08am

What a wonderful time today hanging out with peers and doing something to make a difference. Filled one whole giant garbage bag and then some. 90 minutes plus went by pretty quick though I got cut on glass and the sun beat us to heck for a spell there. Great comraderie and food. Thank you to all who participated, including my 11 year old who won’t read this.

posted by: Zardoz1974 on September 30, 2018  12:21am

@Bill. The name Pick Up Artists is pure genius! It is clever, poignant and right on target. Us parents can make the call for what is appropriate. How many kids know what a “pick-up artist is”? Ever watch any of those G-rated movies and/or kid’s TV shows where they can make reasonable innuendos which fly over kid’s heads and entertain adults? Yeah… “Puck Up Artists” is pretty much like that. Ever watch Benny Hill as a kid? Grow up in the 70’s or 60’s even? My mom is an old feminist and she’s pretty uptight and protective towards what my son sees and hears. She had ZERO problem with “Puck Up Artists. Nor did the 500+ friends I shared this with on Facebook. Many who are what   your fellow moral crusaders of the world might call “snowflakes”.  Tell me were YOU there today? What did YOU do today to make the world a better place? You must have quite a lot of time on your hands to take offense at a name for a group who is actively doing THEIR part… using children as an excuse to inflict their own moral judgements on the world and people who are taking action to make a difference. The biggest trash I dealt with today wasn’t the large cooler I pulled out of a pond, the endless amount of smelly bottles and cans and junk I prevented from ending up in a pond, but reading your trash comment about the name. If I could put it in a bag I would- because the lazy and shortsighted mentality behind it is the worst garbage of all. Good day to you, sir.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 30, 2018  3:16am

OK Ryn,

I thought of a name…...

How about ‘GARBAGE PICKERS’.....

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 30, 2018  3:48am

Better yet—The Edgewood Garbage Pickers.

East Rock can have their own Garbage Pickers, I see The Lighthouse Point Garbage Pickers. The Quinnipiac River Garbage Pickers.

Any Park can have their own Garbage Pickers, but Park can never be in the name. That way it is a peoples campaign rather than something associated with the City.  That is important.  They are going to want to take credit, but don’t give it to them first! 

Like I said, I liked the concept, but you needed a better way to market it.  I offer my suggestion.
I just gave some full thought to it right now.

The ‘Pick-Up Artists’ angle is dead at the gate as a community enterprise, if that is the intention.

If Zoe & Co. would like to talk more, I would certainly be open to that. This is a great idea.
I am not here to put you down but lift you up…. 

I am offering a free consultation.
No strings attached.

Maybe I have already given you enough!
You can decide.

I am always open for talking about community projects.
You are almost halfway there!

posted by: Zoe Matthiessen on September 30, 2018  12:06pm

@Zardoz1974: Thanks again for all your hard work yesterday. You were such a force! I know it’s a bummer to come home from a successful event filled with positivity and good people, mission accomplished and spirits high, only to find such comments on an article honoring the event. Don’t let Bill Saunders bother you. A quick search on NHI reveals that this is how he spends a good portion of his time. Thanks again for helping us tackle the ick out there yesterday. Truly a group of fine people, exceptional vegan bakers, and talented artists. See you again on the 20th!

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 30, 2018  2:10pm


No reason to attempt to demean me here.  Yes, I regularly post social/political commentary on this news site!
As a long time resident, artist, and organizer in this town, I have ‘some experience’ and ‘some credibility’.

I think I was very clear with about my criticism here—and it is about ‘what is appropriate messaging for kids events’.
I think it is a ‘viewpoint’ that you should take ‘pause’ to consider, and not ‘dismiss’ so readily. 

All rules change when kids are involved and made part of the focus.

I have absolutely no problem with the community intent here, nor have I criticized it.
That being said, I’m glad your event went well.

Also, Zoe - we’ve met before—you have even been to my home. 
You can speak to me directly in the future.  I don’t bite.

posted by: Zoe Matthiessen on September 30, 2018  9:16pm

“Dead at the Gate”, you say? We CLEANED the gate. I think we’re more than “almost half-way there.” We’ve just organized, promoted and completed our first event, and the Long Pond area of Edgewood Park is now pristine. What really stinks in our “current political climate” is that anyone would sabotage the hard work and recruiting efforts of a small and newly forming environmentalist group, rather than forwarding the cause in some way. “Pick-Up Artists” has been praised by feminists, school teachers, and political activists, and The Dept. of Parks and Rec., the Eli Whitney Museum, NH Independent and other group organizers have all been supportive and enthusiastic. The alarm is apparently only being sounded by you. I see no reason to change the group’s name simply because one person — you — is bothered by it. I find it empowering to take an old phrase with negative connotations and transform it into something positive and meaningful. Never has the phrase “Pick-Up Artists” in any tradition of the word had a thing to do with kids. Your suggestion that I am creating an unsafe environment for them — when I am in fact IMPROVING it — really is outlandish. Just what is the scenario you see unfolding at an event? Sleazy men mistaking the park for a bar at closing time? Because of our name? Your whole preoccupation with our name is just absurd. Read the Q+A- This isn’t a “children’s group”—It is a group for artists, who are welcome to bring their kids if they wish. So, try to keep your balance and crawl along the side of a hill while collecting the most disgusting kinds of garbage imaginable, and be part of the effort if you want to be helpful—rather than criticizing our name from the comfort of your couch. Perhaps then the group will have more interest in your “free” suggestions which, so far, have been unhelpful and irritating to us. This will be my only response to you in this thread as I am very busy and don’t really have time for this.

posted by: Zardoz1974 on October 1, 2018  8:14am

Thank You, Zoe for your positivity and action. That is a lot more than I can say for SOME people who have the time to criticize and find fault and mock your efforts. It seems everywhere you look there are blowhards filled with hot air so full of themselves willing to point the finger and find fault and smugly give advice for something they would never in a million years be bothered to take part in no matter what the name or label is. Let’s be honest, here. I’m annoyed that my earlier responses to our short-sighted blow hard friend here did not get posted.

posted by: pfasolino on October 1, 2018  3:34pm

The clean-up was a success as witnessed by me since I was one of the volunteers.  I traveled all the way from Brooklyn to participate. There was plenty of comraderie picking up the litter. In teams of two, one person held the bag as the other picked up the debris. I was the bagman. Does that imply that we promote mobsters who collect proceeds for illicit activities?  “Pick-up artist” is a wonderful pun as applied to this crusade. That’s all it is.

posted by: wmmgladstone on October 1, 2018  6:00pm

I, like a previous respondent, am a bit disappointed that the NH Independent has chosen not to post my comments. Regardless, the facts speak for themselves. Zoe has the ‘experience’ and ‘credibility’ of her detractor with none of his negative qualities—certainly not his arrogance. Anyone can sit back and pontificate—far fewer will rise to a challenge, get down and dirty and attempt to actually fix a problem. Kudos to Zoe—and fie on her bloviating critic who poses as an activist from the safety of his couch while other people actually get out and do something. If he really wanted to help he could have emailed her privately—her email is all over the poster. Instead he chose instead to grandstand in a public forum which demonstrates that it was never about helping her project, it was always about him. The play on words is great. The group is great. And, as anyone who has met or worked with her can attest—Zoe is great, too. As far as the supposed nefarious influence her clever verbiage could wreak on unwitting and vulnerable children, I think anyone who knows her would agree that there are few role models in her league. Carry on! Forward march!

posted by: Zardoz1974 on October 1, 2018  9:33pm

YYYEEEEAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!  wmmgladstone laying down the HAMMER!!! Hahahahaha! Love it. You nailed it. I’m even MORE proud of this team!!