San Ramon will soon choose best utility box art proposals
By Lou Fancher
The city of San Ramon is poised to deliver an artistic touch and appreciable aesthetic upgrade to five locations along Crow Canyon Road.
After observing similar projects in neighboring communities, the city recently announced the first Utility Box Public Art Project. The invitation extended to qualifying participants marshals civic pride and artistic talent to turn five blank, gray, traffic signal control boxes into vibrant expressions of community identity.
Artists will receive a $700 stipend and no-charge visibility for artists whose work is selected. Original design and the ability to hand paint the artwork on the box are required. The use of imagination and creativity — with reasonable expectations of suitability to appeal to people of all ages, gender orientation, race and ethnicity— are unlimited.
Recreation Technician Erika Burg says the city’s arts advisory committee started the ball rolling. “They help push forward new projects. They were interested in seeing if we, the staff, could take this on. Because other cities like Dublin and Pleasanton have them already, learning from their experiences made the whole process easier.”
Of course, it’s not the city’s first pubic art project. City-owned art exists at San Ramon Sports Park, Central Park, Athan Downs Park, Dougherty Station and other locations. Applying their know-how to utility boxes however, had a mild learning curve.
“We found that some cities work with outside contractors who hire the artists and print a digital image on vinyl wrap that is then applied to the boxes,” says Burg. “But we felt a hands-on piece would give the artists more interaction with the community. Especially while they’re out there painting it.”
Artists are asked to apply the theme, Celebrating the Arts, to their design. Images that support wellness, safety, family and multiculturalism are encouraged and leave the window of possibilities wide open.
“Some cities narrow the themes to all animals, or all flowers,” says Burg. “We wanted to keep it open to broaden the pool of ideas. We felt there’d be more variety and the artists would use their creativity differently, more individually.”
After selections are announced May 16, city staff will work with the artists to arrange a four-week painting period between early June and the beginning of August. Burg says other than cautionary notes — to avoid excessive use of dark colors in the design that could cause overheating in summer months, for example—artists are free to explore coloration and imagery with few restraints.
“We want them to learn, if they don’t know already, about the multi-ethnic, multiracial, family-friendly makeup of San Ramon, which increases year after year,” Burg says. “We know they’ll apply that to the designs and the boxes will be both utilitarian and artistic mirrors of the community.”