Unveiling of Donner Lake Sculpture: Trash to Treasure

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Thanks to artists Yustina Salnikova and Joel Dean from Building 180, an all-inclusive art production and consulting agency that specializes in creating intricate art installations from start to finish, trash literally became treasure.

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, locals came together to honor the unveiling of the new Donner Lake sculpture, crafted from an unconventional source: a heap of trash retrieved from the depths of Donner Lake. A fish form emerged from the debris pile, fashioned from an amalgamation of anchors, sunglasses, boat bumpers, buoys, and traffic cones.

“All these pieces were waiting to become this fish,” Dean said. “The fact that we get to bring a piece of art to a place of such beauty and connectedness is really heartwarming.” 

Crowd gathered at the unveiling.
Zoe Meyer / Sierra Sun

Salnikova emphasized that the artwork was designed to honor the ecosystem.

“This piece was about the cycle of life,” Salnikova said.     

Clean Up the Lake, a non-profit dedicated to combating pollution globally, made the Donner Lake sculpture project possible. Through data collection, collaboration with scientists, research dives, and community engagement, they address pollution in lakes like Tahoe and Donner. They conduct scuba clean-ups and implement litter control strategies. Notable achievements include a human-powered Lake Tahoe circumnavigation, the largest trash clean-up in its history. 

Clean Up the Lake’s first circumnavigation was in 2020, during the peak of COVID.

“Turns out scuba diving is a really great way of social distancing while making a difference,” Sadye Easler, Director of Programs at Clean Up the Lake, said.

In 2022, Clean Up the Lake revisited Tahoe and Donner to assess litter accumulation and ensure their work was thorough. Throughout the Donner project clean-up,13,000 pounds of trash was pulled (including 174 tires). 

The Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District, celebrating its 60th anniversary, also played a pivotal role in the sculpture’s success.

Board Member Eric Smith stated, “This sculpture is a great symbol of what we call ‘sustainable Truckee’—taking waste, cleaning it, recycling it, and turning it into art.”

Additionally, the Town of Truckee should be recognized for its donation and commitment to stewardship. 

The Donner fish sculpture stands as a testament to the power of unity in preserving and nurturing our environment. Its presence will serve as a continual reminder to be mindful and deliberate in our actions.

Zoe Meyer / Sierra Sun

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