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City provides unlikely canvas for artists

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Passersby the Auto Center Drive and Indian Hill Boulevard intersection over the weekend got a glimpse of Long Beach-based artist Mer Young fulfilling the city’s utility box enhancement project.

Young gave the sun warped, dull utility box on the northwest corner a fresh coat of paint, transforming it into a multicolored piece of art decorated with violet, deep-purple and yellow flowers, blossoming with green leaves and stems.

According to Bevin Handel, the city’s public information officer and the public art committee’s staff liaison, what Young was doing not only perfectly fine, but a long time coming for the city’s utility boxes.

On Monday, Handel shared that Young, along with nine other Southern California artists, are going to be popping up over the next few months as the city looks to transform 10 of its plain utility boxes into eye-catching works of art.

The genesis of the project came in 2019 Handel said, when the city’s public art committee began “looking at ways to put art in unexpected places.”

“One of the thoughts was to put art in crosswalks,” Handel said. “The more we researched it though, there’s a conflict a little bit with putting art on the streets because it can get confusing [as to] what are your actual lines and your crosswalk lines. So, the thought was how can we do this without causing an accident or something like that.”

After hitting a dead-end, the public art committee began looking at what other cities were doing to beatify public spaces with art. Taking inspiration from Monrovia, Pasadena and other art rich cities, the committee decided to give Claremont’s utility boxes an updated paintjob.

“There were plenty of cities that had some examples of how they turned plain, ugly utility boxes into unexpected art opportunities,” Handel said.

It’s taken nearly two years from inception for a brush to stroke a metal box. The project’s tracks began getting laid in late 2019 when the public art committee established the power box ad hoc committee “to develop a program for the selection of artists and painting of select utility boxes in the city,” according to Handel.

But the pandemic delayed the project’s progress and further canceled public art committee meetings, until Zoom came to the rescue.

During a September 2020 meeting, the effort regained steam when “the public art committee approved a request for proposals for artists to submit designs.” The following month, the request for proposal was released with artists submitting concept art for a five-sided utility box.

The deadline, originally November 15, 2020, was extended to January 15, 2021 at the request of the public art committee. When the submission period concluded, the power box ad hoc committee reviewed 42 submissions from 29 artists.

On March 1, 2021, the committee chose 10 artists to implement their works onto 10 utility boxes along the Indian Hill Blvd./Foothill Blvd. corridor. The artists were chosen based on past artistic achievements and experience, the appropriateness of the artistic approach, and the design’s level of creativity.

The finalists were approved by the public art committee that same March just days later. Then on April 13, 2021, the city council approved the project and recommended artwork during its regular meeting.

Handel explained that the COVID-19 pandemic kept many of the artists from coming down to the City of Trees immediately. It wasn’t until last weekend that Young, the first artist to paint her utility box, signaled the fun part of the project was finally underway.

Joining Young — whose piece is titled “Little Painted Flowers” — will be Flavia Monteiro painting “Red on Box” on the northeast box at Indian Hill and Foothill; Cheyne Ellett painting “Musical Celebration” on the southeast box at Indian Hill and 10th St.; Hannah Kim painting “Spread Our Wings” on the northwest box at Foothill and Mills; Angel Villanueva painting “Color Me Happy” on the northwest box at Indian Hill and Bonita; Nuria Ortiz painting “The Flowers are Dancing” on the northwest box at Indian Hill and First St.; Eva Grello, painting “Peaceful Parkside Picnic” on the northwest box at College and Kirkwood; Ronald Del Cid painting “Chapilandia” on the northwest box at Indian Hill and Claremont High; Ruben Young painting an untitled piece on the southeast box at Indian Hill and Second St.; and RaeAnn Noakes painting “Share the Love” on the southeast box at Indian Hill and Arrow Highway.

Although some scheduling conflicts have arisen, Handel hopes all 10 boxes can be completed by September. According to the ad hoc committee, the selected boxes were “chosen for the proximity to a variety of populations and positions that might surprise and interest the viewer, these will also provide a fine collection of site-specific artistic expressions.”

The public art committee was always adamant getting this project up and running. When asked about why this project had to be seen through, Handel said, “I think a commitment to art has always been a foundation of Claremont.

“We have artists, local artists, art studios, we have just a whole history of art in Claremont. And a history of public art in Claremont — some when it was not quite official,” she said. “The city and the city council have made this commitment to public art. It was a way to kind of bring in art — at fairly low-cost — by some great artists.”

The cost of the utility box effort came out to around $8,500, a total that includes a $750 stipend for each artist and a $1,000 graffiti coat protection layer that will be applied to the boxes. Handel said funds for the project came from the city’s dedicated “public art fund.”

Although not all the artists chosen are from Claremont, Handel said each did an outstanding job creating artwork for the boxes that has a Claremont-centric theme.

“It was really interesting to see each of their take on what they thought Claremont was,” Handel said. “Some took inspiration from the [California] Botanic Garden; some took it from landmarks … I think they got it right.”

Handel said the effort is just another example of how the public art committee is dedicated to bringing art to the City of Trees. She added that even after this project is done, residents should expect to see more art in unexpected places.

“The thought too with the public art committee was that if this first 10 are successful, that they would definitely revisit doing more in the future.” Handel added.

For details about the utility box project or to view the concept art of each box, visit ci.claremont.ca.us/home/showpublisheddocument/16019/63750457-6311430000.

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