Man turns trash into art with near 9,000 dime bags found in Humboldt Park

CHICAGO -- It was a simple walk to the bus that started Ben Kurstin on his quest. A photographer and filmmaker by trade, it was a glance down at his Humboldt Park sidewalk several years ago that shifted his artistic focus.

“I saw a drug bag on the ground and it had a nude woman on it and said heavy D on it. I thought it was really peculiar,” said Kurstin.

The next day he saw another, and another and another.

“I just started to pick them up to see how many I could find,” he said.

Every day on that half mile walk to and from the bus, Kurstin would collect drug bags, often referred to as dime bags, just steps away from his apartment.

He’d collect everything from the very small crack bags to the very big for marijuana.

“It’s very depressing that I could pick up 50, 100, 150 in a day and the next day pick up a number that was comparable to that,” Kurstin said.

Kurstin added that most bags had some sort of residue in them, whether it be heroin cocaine or marijuana. Occasionally a pill, or a little bit of dust that he assumed was meth or crack.

For nearly two years, the 32-year-old collected up to 8816 bags in 150 designs that would become a collection of art pieces, like an eight foot Richard Nixon comprised of 4,000 bags.

Kurstin made American flags, beautiful mosaics, all subjects tied to the war on drugs.

Kurstin said he wasn’t shocked by the volume he was able to collect given that Humboldt Park sits just a quarter mile from the Eisenhower Expressway, also known as the Heroine Highway.

“What I’m hoping is this might spark a conversation in people to rethink the war on drugs and rethink decriminalizing drugs stop punishing those who are hurting themselves…and moving forward in the way other countries have in the last decade or so,” he said.

Kurstin has since moved out of the Humboldt Park area, he doesn’t collect bags anymore and is working on his final piece; to highlight a problem he says is under everyone’s nose.

“It’s not that they weren’t seeing them, because they were there, they weren’t seeing them because they didn’t want to see them because it’s easy to ignore, just like the addiction problem,” he said.

Kurstin will be holding his first ever show in Pilsen to display his work. For more details, visit his website. https://www.benkurstin.com/

Show Information:
Dime A Dozen
Fri. Oct. 6
6-9pm
Casa Calle 20
1538 W. Cullerton