Local Artists Work Their Magic on Dull Utility Boxes Along San Jose Streets

View slide show of San Jose’s Art Boxes

Dorian Silva | NeighborWebSJ

Utility box transformed into work of art.

Once-drab utility boxes in Downtown San Jose and nearby neighborhoods now show off colorful birds, zany dogs and abstract faces created by local artists who joined the ArtBox Project SJ.

The project was launched in September by community activist Tina Morill, who responded to a challenge by her friend and journalist Gary Singh who had seen similar artwork in Canada and said that it could never happen here in San Jose.

Morill also saw the project as a way to discourage graffiti and offer a new venue to local artists and bring art into communities across San Jose.
“We have ten boxes so far, the first one was started in September,” said Morrill, “and to date we only have two tags. So that’s really good considering the number of months.”

A similar project in Hayward has been successful, with statistics showing a significant reduction in tagging. This helped Morrill to solidify the reasoning behind bringing the project to San Jose neighborhoods.

The project first began without approval from the City of San Jose. Once the boxes had been painted and positive feedback trickled in, Morrill went to the city for approval to have more boxes painted.

“What I wanted to do was show them we had some done,” said Morrill, “instead of going to them and saying ‘hey I have this idea’.”

Dorian Silva | NeighborWebSJ

Detail of art box at 13th and Hedding Streets.

The project had already been given support from District 3 Councilman Sam Liccardo and District 6 Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio who helped in getting support from city administrators.

The project follows guidelines similar to other Downtown San Jose art projects. Artists are not allowed to inject their own bias into paintings or use imagery that could be considered gang-affiliated.

Cherri Lakey, owner of Phantom Galleries, helped to find local artists to participate in the project. She looks for artists who would suit each neighborhood that would like an art box.

“We try to choose artists that will resonate with their (neighborhoods’) history and fit it into the landscape in a sense that it won’t be a complete dysfunction to what their vibe is,” Lakey said.

Four to five artists are chosen per box and submit samples of their work. The sponsor or neighborhood committees make the final decision on which artist will paint the box for their neighborhoods. Artists are paid a $200 stipend for their work, but they usually spend more than that in supplies and time, Lakey said.

Lakey said her artist pool is strong, and even though painting the boxes is a volunteer project, many artist are happy to lend their vision and talent to help improve the community.

“The reception of it has been really good,” Lakey said. “ I think they (the neighborhoods) appreciate it, because they are kind of the forgotten areas.”

Its not just residents who have come to appreciate these blips of art throughout the city. Business owners who have boxes in front of their stores have also found them to be a great addition to the local atmosphere.

“I think its eye-catching.” said Roan Victor, co-owner of The Arsenal on The Alameda. “It’s great that the city is spending time toward getting artist to do this for the city. We’re very supportive.”

The hope for the ArtBox Project SJ is to have many more painted in the near future to bring a little more life to neighborhoods.

“There is amazing gratification to art in the daily life,” Lakey said.

1 comment to Local Artists Work Their Magic on Dull Utility Boxes Along San Jose Streets

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