Community Members Hope to Beautify Downtown

Photo: Utility boxes in the downtown area may have a new face as some community members try to instal sustainability-themed artwork on them.
Michael Restrepo/Photo
Utility boxes in the downtown area may have a new face as some community members try to instal sustainability-themed artwork on them.

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Downtown Berkeley may soon be more appealing to the eye, supportive of showcasing local artwork and expressive of the sustainable and green themes that the city aims to promote.

Looking to beautify the Downtown, Ariana Katovich - the restoration initiatives director at the Earth Island Institute - came up with the idea to allow business owners and community members to sponsor the installation of local, sustainability-themed artwork on one of 60 utility boxes in the area.

Katovich previously lived in the area for three years and said she noticed that "Downtown Berkeley was very gray" and not reflective of its artistic community. After seeing colorful artwork displayed on utility boxes in various cities in California, she was inspired to launch the 60 Boxes Project in the city's downtown area.

"The goal is to utilize the great canvases that we have in our utility boxes," she said. "We're working with the community and businesses Downtown to sponsor boxes and then pairing them up with artists."

So far, businesses, foundations and local politicians have all pledged fiscal support for the project, including Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington and Ecocity Builders - a San Francisco based nonprofit organization.

The Open Circle Foundation - supporting foundation of the East Bay Community Foundation - has contributed $8,000 to the project's fund, according to Diane Sanchez, the East Bay Community Foundation's director of grant making and donor services. Katovich said this donation enabled youth to participate in the project.

Erica Hess, senior manager for community relations at Peet's Coffee & Tea's Emeryville headquarters said the company will be working actively with students from Berkeley High School and the YMCA to create designs for the two utility boxes in front of the company's Shattuck Avenue location.

Although not all of the boxes have been sponsored yet, Katovich said artists have begun working on their designs. Once the contract with the city is signed - which Katovich said would be "any day now" - the project can officially accept artist portfolios.

High resolution photos will be taken of the artwork and then printed on a polymer sticker, which will be covered with a graffiti-resistant coating. She said she hopes to complete the first wave of boxes by Earth Day in late April.

Arreguin said he appreciates the integration of public art into public spaces.

"That's a new element that's happening in the downtown, and I think it's fantastic," he said.


Karinina Cruz and Jessica Gillotte cover business. Contact them at [email protected]

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