A while ago, the city of Fort Collins figured out that the least expensive way to deal with graffiti on utility boxes was to hire artists to paint murals on them. A program hiring artists to transform the transformer boxes began in 2006, and is explained in part in a PDF of the city utilities newsletter from 2008.
I like graffiti that has artistry to it and that doesn't deface other artists' work. Unfortunately, a lot of the graffiti in this city consists of clumsy and ugly tagging and some of it does mess up other art.
The murals, on the other hand, are creative and diverse. The program saves the city money and stashes cash in artists' pockets, on its way to doing further good in the community.
Eighteen artists are working on boxes around town this year.
What a delight it's been for my daughter and me to discover that the boxes along our most-often-used section of bike trail have been scheduled to be painted. Most of the painting has been done in the more central parts of the city. One pair of boxes will feature birdlife, especially Red-winged Blackbirds (by Redwing Street; PDF here—I've only seen one of these boxes so far, and it's complete).
There's also a whole series of boxes offering new doses of evolving brightness, courtesy of artist Francisco Esteban. My daughter and I first became aware of the sudden addition of graphic imagery on the boxes. Here's one color set-up:
I was initially worried, thinking that the colors and white dots were interesting but would invite tagging, because of their simplicity. It was interesting to find myself considering that the design of the artwork actually goes a long way toward discouraging ugly additions later.
Later, we occasionally caught sight of the artist working on the pieces. Of course, we've been on our bikes so we've zoomed on past. I'd been planning to take my camera and get pictures of the boxes, just by themselves, figuring I wouldn't happen to be there when the artist was.
As the weeks progressed, we began to see that the white circles were turning into bicycle wheels, and small flocks of black-and-white cyclists were accumulating, slowly, on one of the boxes.
Sunday I biked downtown to have breakfast with a friend and remembered to take my camera. On the way back, this was what I saw . . .
I managed to overcome my natural shyness and stopped and asked if I could take some snapshots and share them on my blog.
Fortunately, it turns out that there's a lot more to come for these boxes. I love the radically different colors in this pair. And the whole painting set-up. This guy knows what he's doing, as an artist and from the pragmatic angles.
Many more of those ovals have already turned into lines of racing cyclists:
The work is proceeding steadily, and I'm enjoying watching the construction of these pieces. I looked up the concept PDF and learned that there will be additional colors coming in the cyclists' jerseys after the black-and-white portions are all in place. It turns out that I can also follow the progress of the murals online in another PDF, although I'd rather do it in person as I bike along the trail.
I also enjoy seeing how this artist gets to his work site.
On one of my trips past where he's working, I'll need to ask about the bike. I haven't seen many cargo bikes around town. These vehicles can handle up to 400 pounds (about 180 kg).
Fortunately, there's a summer ahead of us, and it's going to take a while to make those transformer boxes even more beautiful. Considering how long Francisco is going to be working on them, we're figuring he's a new part-time neighbor. It's really nice to have artists hanging out and doing good work in our part of the world. It makes me want more art, everywhere. It's also fantastic that artists are being paid to do work that has both aesthetic and practical value.