Taking an Ordinary Utility Box and Creating Art

Sacramento is known as the “City of Trees” and the “Farm to Fork Capital,” but it also has a vibrant art scene that can be found, quite literally, on every corner.

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Finding art in unexpected places is part of the Sacramento charm. If you have taken the time to walk the downtown grid chances are you have passed a sculpture, wall mural, or even a utility box covered in art.

Having passed so many of the latter, I started to wonder, what is the deal with those boxes?! So, I Googled it, contacted the right person, and found myself sitting across from Todd Leon, Development Director of the Capitol Area Development Authority (CADA).

“Public art can often be taken for granted, so we wanted to find a platform that was highly visible.”

“Public art can often be taken for granted, so we wanted to find a platform that was highly visible and covers a lot of ground.” Leon’s inspiration for substituting utility boxes with canvases is rather simple: “Utility boxes are everywhere and are ugly. With plenty of them at hand, it seemed like the perfect fit.”

Although the idea of covering up utility boxes is not unique to Sacramento, it does provide the perfect setting to spotlight local artists in the region, and provides a deeper sense of community pride when you pass them on the street.

The project itself was spearheaded by CADA, which strives to create housing and infrastructure improvements, and implement projects like Capitol Box Art in order to reinvest money back into the city we live in and help build a stronger community. The project was the dream child of Leon, but as he puts it, “I came up with the project and did some ground work, but it was by no means a one person job.”

The goal of the project was to beautify the city, celebrate local artists, and promote community, while also deterring graffiti. From start to finish it took a year to complete. The first box, designed by Ianna Frisby, went up on 15th & P in January 2014.

Box art on J and 15th

Artist: Karri Warner, J and 15th Street

The process of selecting the art and the artist.

Leon speaks on the wide variety of art styles represented in the project. “Because we chose to use vinyl wraps of the art work rather than paint only, we were able to cover 30 boxes, which is more than using paint only due to cost. And it gave us the ability to open it up to artists that use different mediums, such graphic art, photography, and mixed media.”

He goes on to say, “The level of talent was not a surprise. The work that came in was amazing and the selection process was more challenging than I had expected because we had so many genres represented.”

CADA worked with the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission (SMAC), who developed the process to find, vet, and select which local artists would be featured on the boxes. The request for proposals attracted over 70 Sacramento artists, and of those, 20 were selected, with each getting one to two boxes.

The wrapped boxes have subsequently inspired other local artists to go beyond the borders of the project. “Some folks that have been struck with inspiration because of the project go through the proper channels and others are guerilla artists.”

Sacramento Capitol Box Art

Leon’s passion for supporting local art is evident when he speaks of the project. “We took something ordinary and mundane and now it’s a bright and beautiful thing, and we are part of bringing that art to the community. I like to think that we were part of introducing a local artist that will eventually help them in their career.”

If you are interested in looking at all of the utility box artwork, grab a cup of coffee, print out the map, and take an artful stroll downtown. If you take the time to share your discoveries online, be sure to tag @postmm on Twitter!

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