Santa Ana Seeks Artists to Beautify Utility Boxes

L.A. Utility Box Art by Joshua Callaghan

In cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, you can find public art covering buildings, telephone lines, freeways public spaces and even electrical utility boxes. Street artists have been illegally using public structures as modern canvases for years. Now a new project in Santa Ana seeks artists' help to give color to these ubiquitous utility boxes.

These boring metal boxes are everywhere -- necessary but often hideous. Santa Ana's new initiative will camouflage these public eye sores in creative and fun ways, with the help of their artistic communities, schools or local art organizations.

In July, the Santa Ana City Council decided to form an Ad-Hoc Committee to investigate more opportunities for public art, including the Utility Box Art Project. The City of Santa Ana has recently launched a call for artists for this project. They are asking for innovative designs and decoration by local artists or artist collectives for seven utility boxes across the city.

In its inaugural application process, Santa Ana is offering a $700 stipend per utility box, as well as reimbursement of up to $200 for supplies for the project.
The city is accepting applications by artists or groups of artists through November 6, with a deadline of 5 p.m., and the applicants are invited to submit up to three conceptual renderings for consideration.

Palms Utility Box by LA Commons

Jay Trevino, the Executive Director of Planning hopes that this project will give the city some more creative energy as a whole. "This is an opportunity to beautify the City, invest in the arts and provide another way for local artists to showcase their work in a unique way," Trevino says. "Artists will be selected based on established criteria such as appropriateness of scale, form and content, as well as artistic excellence and the artists experience working on comparable projects."

The downtown Santa Ana area has a number of murals and public art pieces, but this will be the first time that the city puts out a completely open call for artists with such a large compensation for a public art piece.

United Farm Workers Mural in Santa Ana, by Emigdio Vasquez

Storefront Mural in Santa Ana

"Other Cities that have explored this type of program found that offering a modest honorarium for the work elicited higher quality submittals. Funding for the pilot program will come from the City," Trevino says.

Other California cities like Berkeley, San Luis Obispo, San Jose and San Diego have already started to decorate their drab electrical boxes, and have not only become artistic triumphs for the community, but they also have become bonding and exploratory experiences for artists and art lovers alike.

Utility Box Art by Scott Willis in San Jose

Detail of Box done by Dorian Silva in San Jose

In San Jose, Tina Morrill, a community activist spearheaded the Art Box San Jose, and convinced the city to let her team and a handful of excited artists donate their time and energy to beautify the city-owned boxes. Over 40 city-owned utility boxes have been painted, and they hope to continue growing that number, according to the San Jose Inside. Morill approached businesses to act as sponsors and commission an artist to design and paint an approved box, and it's been a well-received addition to the San Jose cityscape.

In L.A., areas like Palms, Silver Lake, Pasadena and Hollywood have also been beautifying utility boxes with the help of organizations and local artists and schools.

Local artist Devora Orantes anticipates that the community react and interact with this new public art. "The public engagement of art through these utility boxes in Santa Ana will help foster community through unexpected art forms that will both beautify the city and support artistic expression," she says.

Professional artists are still struggling to get by in the economy, constantly competing with one another and often working multiple jobs just to be able to afford their practice. The struggle to be seen is an ever-weighing battle for most artists. The Utility Box Art Project could be a helping hand in the battle to be seen for artists and to further interact with communities.

"Engagement with the arts is essential to building a creative environment in Washington," Harriet Tregoning, the director of the Washington DC Office of Planning tells BBC News Magazine. But that doesn't necessarily mean through museums and theater performances, she says. "I think the arts are very significant, but not just the arts as conventionally defined--like the fine arts or the performing arts--but the whole sweep of creative occupations. That might include media, digital media, architecture and design. Those things are incredibly important."

 Novei Beige and Eliot Oxander and their utility box in Hollywood.jpg

Santa Ana's downtown area is an art hub for Orange County and the city is finally embracing that role through inspired projects like this.

Joshua Callaghan Utility Box in L.A.

Santa Ana's Jay Trevino says this is only the beginning for the Utility Box Art Project. "The initial phase will be located in the Downtown area," he says. "The City Council Ad-Hoc Committee decided to make this a pilot program and to start with a small number of utility cabinets. [But] the second phase of the pilot project, where seven additional cabinets citywide would become the canvases for students, volunteers or other budding artists, would begin in January 2014. These cabinets would be located in each of the City Council Wards."

Southern California muralist, Kevin Stewart-Magee is eager for the opportunity and plans on applying to this community-oriented new project. "These are great opportunities for emerging artists looking to build their resume, new teams who want to work on their chops while engaging the community and experienced artists who are looking for a unique challenge," he says. "Artists are smart to take their work to the street. Small projects like this can deliver wonderful work where is will be seen and surprising opportunities to the artists."

The Utility Box Art Project is still looking for interested artists, and the city of Santa Ana hopes that this pilot program will encourage more innovative public art for the city in the future. The city is accepting applications by artists or groups of artists through November 6, with a deadline of 5 p.m.

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Top Image: L.A. Utility Box Art by Joshua Callaghan.

About the Author

Evan is the Editor in Chief of Inland Empire Weekly, Culture Magazine, and Rogue Art Research & Writing (RARW).
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