Artists added a touch of color to downtown San Luis Obispo this weekend, transforming the city’s utility boxes into public art.
The Box Art project, a collaboration between the city and the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association, requisitioned 13 local artists to paint 16 utility boxes throughout downtown.
The project mimics what other cities, including Ventura, have done nationwide.
A nine-member jury selected the artists from 33 submissions. Painted scenes include renderings of Bishop’s Peak and the San Luis Obispo Mission and some abstract pieces.
Artists painted the boxes Saturday while the public watched.
Each artist was paid a stipend of $1,500 per box and up to a $200 reimbursement for supplies from the city’s public art fund. That money is typically collected from in-lieu fees paid by developers for public art, said Shannon Bates, San Luis Obispo’s public art coordinator and recreation manager.
In February, the Downtown Association design committee, along with Bates, toured Ventura to learn more about how they had implemented the box art program.
The project was then fast-tracked as part of the City Council’s goal of downtown beautification.
“Public art lends a special touch to downtown, appealing to everyone who walks by and stops to enjoy the charismatic and whimsical themes chosen for the 16 boxes,” said Deborah Cash, executive director of the Downtown Association.
The city is home to 34 pieces of public art, ranging from murals and stained glass windows to towering bronze and steel sculptures. A mix of donated and commissioned pieces, they draw inspiration from sources as varied as Chinese railroad workers, Chumash pictographs and native plants and wildlife.
Two additional pieces will be installed in the near future, including the recently approved Qishi-Soushi kinetic sculpture planned for Marsh and Higuera streets.
Using the city’s utility boxes as canvases will likely detour graffiti, Bates said. To further protect the new art, an anti-graffiti clear coat was sprayed on the boxes — which allows for a solvent to remove graffiti without damaging the painting, she said.
The latest public art project is an “unexpected little place to find a bit of joy and beauty,” Bates said. “It is about turning a corner and finding a beautiful piece of artwork in an unconventional location.”