Artist who took trash bins affixed with ‘Take Me!’ stickers now finds herself a victim

She has been a criminal suspect and a symbol of a dysfunctional bureaucracy, and now she’s a crime victim, as well.

Mina Karini — who got nabbed in April for taking trash and recycling bins affixed with city stickers urging “Take Me!” — said that her white 2003 Jeep Liberty was stolen Sunday night from near her Capitol Hill apartment. The artist said she had just taken her booth down at Eastern Market, and her vehicle was packed to the brim with 300 small wooden paintings and 10 framed prints.

The good news is that the thief ditched the paintings and left them in a nearby alley. Karini said her Jeep was so full that clearing out the artwork was the only way to drive it away.

A neighbor saw the paintings, snapped a photo and posted it to PoPville, a neighborhood Internet blog, and a viewer recognized the artist and got in touch with her. Karini said that all of her work is accounted for and “without a scratch.” Losing it, she said, “would have been devastating.”

Karini made headlines after she and a friend were arrested April 21 in Georgetown after police stopped them with what they said were 51 trash and recycling bins in the back of a vehicle. At the time, the city was replacing old bins, and residents who wanted new ones set theirs out with “Take Me!” stickers provided by the city.

Karini said she had planned to turn the bins into artistic flower pots, and had taken only those being discarded. She and the friend were each charged with misdemeanor theft.

But when word of the arrests got out, Karini and her friend became instant symbols of a failed District program. Problem was the District couldn’t pick up the bins fast enough, leaving thousands littering streets, alleys and vacant lots throughout the city.

Many residents, and politicians, hailed Karini for doing what the District could not — pick up the bins. Prosecutors dropped the charges against the couple in June, and Karini went back to selling her paintings.

She woke up Monday to find her vehicle, and paintings, gone from where she had parked on 11th Street between F Street and Maryland Avenue in Northeast Washington. D.C. police confirmed the theft. Even with her car gone, Karini feels lucky her art was recovered.

“I’m delighted and so grateful to have my work back,” Karini said in an e-mail. “It means so much more to me the than the car. It was miraculous that someone in the neighborhood discovered my stuff in their alleyway and posted it on Popville.” She said a canopy tent and fold-up table remain missing with the vehicle.

Ironically, Karini said that the very same sanitation workers who failed to pick up the recycling bins were minutes away from tossing her artwork in a trash truck.

And she still hasn’t been able to turn a recycling bin into a planter. But Karini noted that back in April, “nearly a dozen cops showed up within a few minutes” to investigate the trash bin caper. When she called about her car being stolen on Monday, Karini said, “just one cop on a bicycle arrived 30 minutes after my 911 call.”

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