The Artist in Residence Program at Recology was established in 1990 at the same time that recycling was being implemented in the city and county of San Francisco as a result of 1989 state law AB 939. This law required all jurisdictions in California to divert at least fifty-percent of their waste from landfills by the year 2000. Counties were required to have a County Solid Waste Management Plan to achieve this state-mandated goal, and as a result, the Solid Waste Management Program (SWMP) was formed in San Francisco.
Part of San Francisco's plan was to design an education program to promote recycling and resource conservation. The SWMP and Recology San Francisco (then known as San Francisco Sanitary Fill Company) worked together to create informational ads and brochures about recycling, develop classroom presentations, and organize tours of recycling plants. The goal was to teach people how to use curbside recycling bins and to encourage source reduction in order to promote a general awareness of how recycling helps protect the environment. Conceived by Jo Hanson, the Artist in Residence Program was the most innovative element of the education plan and the first program of its kind in the United States. Jo was a guiding force for the program and served as a member of the program's board from 1990 until she passed away in March, 2007.
Jo Hanson came to prominence in the early 1970s in San Francisco as an artist and activist and was a pioneering spirit in both the environmental and feminist art movements. After moving into a dilapidated Victorian house on Buchanan Street which she restored to landmark status, Hanson turned her efforts toward cleaning up her litter-strewn streets. Her personal act of sweeping one sidewalk turned into a celebrated public art practice and city-wide anti-liter campaign, Over time Hanson expanded her work beyond her neighborhood, and organized community street sweepings, a children's anti-litter art campaign for City Hall, and led a famous bus tour of San Francisco street dumping sites. Hanson's community-inclusive strategies set precedents in public "ecoart," created models for younger artists, and provided a representational voice in City Hall for those living in disenfranchised neighborhoods.
As a San Francisco Arts Commissioner for six years, Hanson championed the inclusion of underrepresented women and artists of color in the City's art collections. She was instrumental in the Arts Commission's restoration of the Coit Tower murals and the acquisition of artwork for the San Francisco International Airport. Hanson was also a driving force behind the preservation and restoration of Lucien Labaudt's WPA-era murals at the Beach Chalet.
In the late 1980s Hanson suggested to Recology and the City of San Francisco that they develop an artist-in-residence program at the city dump which would offer studio space and stipends for emerging and established artists to create artwork from the waste stream and raise public awareness about environmental issues. Now more than twenty years later, the Artist in Residence Program has been nationally recognized and awarded, and countless artists, children, and adults have benefited from Jo Hanson's vision.