The garish advertisements on Philadelphia's Big Belly trash cans arrived silently in June but rapidly multiplied like locusts and began covering the cans across the city, from historical hot spots to residential neighbors.

"BARBERA ON THE BOULEVARD HAS … 300 JEEPS CHEAP!" the ads yelled to passersby, sometimes several times on the same block.

Barbera ads plaster three of four sides on this Big Belly trash can.
Stephanie Farr
Barbera ads plaster three of four sides on this Big Belly trash can.

Now, some folks who know a thing or two about making Philly look good have banded together to combat the abrasive advertising campaign by purchasing space on 18 Big Belly trash cans and plastering those cans with local art instead of ads.

City Fitness teamed with Brendan Lowry, founder of ad agency Rory Creative and curator of the peopledelphia Instagram account, and Conrad Benner, founder of the popular Philly street art blog Streets Dept, to curate and document the public art project they've called #TrashcanTakeover. The art pieces were installed on the trash cans Friday.

A #TrashcanTakeover piece of artwork from Nile Livingston at 18th and Chestnut Streets.
Eric Dale
A #TrashcanTakeover piece of artwork from Nile Livingston at 18th and Chestnut Streets.

"It really came from us just walking around and seeing these trash cans and wondering, 'Why is this happening and what could possibly be done to make this better?' " Lowry said.

Tom Wingert, vice president of marketing for City Fitness, said it cost the company more than $10,500 to install the artwork and rent the ad space on 18 Big Belly cans in Center City for four weeks.

"Brendan, Conrad and I see this as an opportunity to challenge all brands to be more conscious of not only what their message is but how that message finds its way into the public eye," Wingert said in a statement.

The chosen artworks — which were all created by Philly-based or Philly-born artists —  range from photographs to oil paintings. The subjects range from dancers to a fire hydrant to Marge Simpson.

A photograph by Kelly Smith adorns a Big Belly can at 15th and Walnut Streets as part of the #TrashcanTakeover campaign.
Eric Dale
A photograph by Kelly Smith adorns a Big Belly can at 15th and Walnut Streets as part of the #TrashcanTakeover campaign.

About 375 Big Belly trash cans across Philadelphia have space available for advertising. The city gave permission to sell the ad space to Green City Solutions for that company's continued maintenance of the units. Philly receives 5 percent of the ad revenue.

A city spokesman said in June that the Barbera ads were approved and conformed to the city's advertising policies.

But after the ads faced public backlash, Barbera changed several of them to feature a heart made out of a trash and a message that read: "KEEP PHILADELPHIA BEAUTIFUL Because BARBERA CARES."

Lowry, who works in advertising, said he thought selling ads on trash cans was an innovative way to use the space, but the repetition of the Barbera ads and lack of concern for how they would fit into the city landscape annoyed him.

"This is something that people are seeing on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times per day and, in general, people are still frustrated," he said. "What I hope this sparks is a conversation about what should be allowed in the public space and how it should be approved."