Add Your Name To The List Of Local Artists Beautifying LA's Utility Boxes
Across Los Angeles, metal boxes have been turned into blank canvases, and street corners into a disconnected gallery of 5-by-3 murals.
These are approved public artworks, but they aren't always commissioned from experienced, established artists. Anyone can make one, including you.
Councilmember David Ryu oversees District 4's utility box art program, and says that of all the programs his office runs, this one is by far the most popular. "We're running out of utility boxes," Ryu said. "We did it more out of love for art, having more public art, something simple and cheap — but we did not expect the outpouring of support."
Other districts supporting utility box art include CD11 and CD10, while Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank all have their own programs, too. Most give preference to people living within the respective area, but they're open to artists from all over.
The process is straightforward: you draw a mockup of what want to paint, submit it to one of the programs above and get assigned a box.
You could contact a councilmember at any time to get a permit to paint a box — but the utility box programs were created to both expedite the process and to pay artists a stipend that covers supplies (and then some).
"It's not just promoting community art, but it's also showing that art has value" Ryu said.
For Ryu, creating a program like this was a no-brainer. "Why not turn [a] sore spot public structure into something creative, something beautiful, something that neighborhoods could take pride in?" he said.
We talked with five artists about the story behind their boxes and how the art has connected them to their community and the city. Here's what they had to say:
I was born and raised in the States, but both my parents are from Mexico. Mariachi music is something I grew up listening to.
I've always liked the suits that the band members wear. To me, it represented someone professional that took their craft seriously. I wanted to celebrate everything that is good and positive about Mexican culture.
The characters on the box and in a constant state of performance. Day, night, rain or shine, they are performing. For the neighborhood across the street, for the passersby walking to the grocery store and for the commuter driving up to the gas station to fill up before heading home.
In L.A., it's pretty desolate on many sidewalks. My box is mostly about community, abstracting the human figure, and adding a pop of color and playfulness to that little area.
My work was always very geometric and grid-based, with cold and desaturated colors — but moving to LA put a surge of color and a looseness to my work.
My goal was really just to make the neighborhood nicer-looking, even if it is just on a five-foot box.
This box in particular, is telling the story of what an Angelino may feel from day to day. From one long commute to the next. From meeting one colorful experience to another. We live in a stimulating environment that proposes challenges and rewards that are quite different from any other city out there.
I find that murals bring on a different form of engagement. I am out there on the street interacting with the people and they give off a sense of energy and motivation that you just can't get on your own in an isolated studio setting.
I would hope people can feel the chaos and vibrance in the colors and movement of my painting. It is my abstraction of Los Angeles.
Before I painted it, I walked by that box every day. There's something about the contrast between the two sides on 3rd street — on one side is The Grove and on the other side is an area commonly populated by homeless people — that made me want to bring some love and care to that corner.
I was thinking about fashion and patterns, specifically florals and camouflage, and how it might be interesting to make something that's meant to hide in plain sight very, very visible.
I tend to gravitate towards organic shapes and patterns in my work. The goal was to add some color to a pretty drab street corner so I didn't want to overthink it. People passing by were really supportive and excited about the box art. While I was painting it, a few seniors came up to say thanks, which was so sweet! I also remember a car full of young girls giving me the thumbs up. I hope it brings some color and warmth to their day.
Mid City is where I was born and raised, so it's had its effect on me and my art. Growing up, art helped me stay focused amongst all the chaos in my neighborhood as a kid.
All my boxes carry stories — this one is meant to convey the feel of our city's style, vibe and beauty.
I truly just want to invoke more creativity in this world with all my art. Above all, I hope it makes people smile.