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Utility Box Murals Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

20 September 2017

We were driving around minding our own business in Redwood City a few weeks ago when, stuck at the longest red light in the history of urban transportation, we noticed a delightfully decorated utility box on the sidewalk near us.

Detail. The Girls from 2016.

It brought a smile to our face despite the grueling circumstances of our enforced idleness, so we popped off the lens cap and took the shot. There is nothing like setting up a shot to get a traffic light to change.

When the honking behind us died down, we wondered just what we had seen. We wouldn't know until we got back to the bunker and had imported the amusing image.

Full Image. Not the full crop, but just the utility box.

It was a utility box, the kind of metal enclosures you see on the sidewalk that house phone connections for the neighborhood. How far you are from one of these determines how fast your DSL connection is. In the days when DSL connections were available.

This particular box had been vibrantly painted on every side with a portrait of The Girls in 2016. We couldn't make out the artist's name but that's what Antiques Road Show is for. Imagine rolling one of these in there for an appraisal.

It's not the only painted utility box in Redwood City, though. In fact, in 2014 the city's Civic Cultural Commission launched a project to paint 10 of the most graffitied boxes in town "to help both enhance the beauty and vibrancy of Redwood City and deter unsightly graffiti on utility boxes."

Even delinquents appreciate public art, after all.

Signed Artwork. Even zoomed in, we can't quite make it out.

But just in case, once the murals are done, the city applies a special anti-graffiti coating to them which also extends their life in the sun.

We've always had mixed feelings about graffiti, particularly since you could say we make our living practicing a kind of it here.

On the one hand, particularly around the beautiful Bay Area, it always defaces something. Whether it's on a freeway overpass on the inside walls of a bus, it just makes the day uglier.

On the other, it's a social statement. A social statement we don't really want to hear from a part of the population that feels devalued and ignored. In its essence, every graffiti says, "I AM HERE."

We called the practitioners delinquents a few paragraphs back but that kind of marginalization is exactly the problem. And it's no accident much of it is practiced on public buildings, which makes it a political statement, too.

Rather than paint over the graffiti with gray or green utility box paint, fighting paint with paint, Redwood City chose to fight paint with art. There are now 30 utility boxes painted with murals.

Who knows, a few of those civic organizations responsible for the murals might have even been infiltrated by some graffiti artists looking for a socially redeeming way to express themselves.

One can only hope.

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