Artists ready to brighten unsightly utility boxes

Artists will decorate three more drab electric utility boxes around town with funds from the city's Public Arts Commission and locally owned business DreamSacks, Inc.

DreamSacks — which sells travel bed sheets, clothing and accessories around the world — is paying to have two of the three utility boxes painted, said Ann Seltzer, the city's staff liaison to the Public Arts Commission. The city will pay for painting the third box with money set aside for downtown improvements.

The cost to decorate each box is $500, Seltzer said, which includes $250 compensation for each artist who decorates a box.

The Public Arts Commission is now seeking design submissions from artists who want to take part in the Utility Box Beautification Project.

The project started last summer when artists painted seven utility boxes around town. Artists received $100 per box.

The first phase of the project was funded with a $1,500 grant from the Jackson County Cultural Coalition and donations of paint and services from Miller Paint Co., The Party Place and Meyers Painting.

Artists who are chosen to paint the next three utility boxes will receive higher pay.

"The Public Arts Commission feels very strongly that artists should be compensated fairly," Seltzer said.

Since the first utility boxes were painted in 2009, Seltzer said individuals, business owners and members of homeowners' associations have asked how they can get utility boxes painted in their neighborhoods.

The Public Arts Commission is working to create an adopt-a-box program, but in the meantime, DreamSacks offered funding for painting two of the three utility boxes, Seltzer said.

DreamSacks co-owner Nancy Morgan said she likes seeing the decorated boxes.

"When they did them last summer, I went on a little walking tour and thought they were great," she said.

By June 1, DreamSacks plans to move into larger quarters in the old Parsons Pine building near the corner of Helman and Hersey streets, Morgan said. She and her husband, Larry, wanted to help spruce up two utility boxes on Helman Street. The third box to be decorated is located downtown.

Morgan said artists will transform the boxes into works of art.

"I think they take things we take for granted and that are nothing special and make them into something special that reflects our city and our area," she said.

City officials are asking artists to submit designs based on the theme "Reflections of Ashland." Concepts may include (but are not limited to) designs that reflect Ashland's natural beauty, cultural offerings, history and distinctive charm.

The deadline to submit a design application is May 20. Chosen artists will be notified on June 7. Painting will begin on June 20 and must be completed by July 1. Artists must be Jackson County residents.

The Public Arts Commission will hire a professional to prepare the surface of the utility boxes for painting, and a professional to apply a vandal-proof coating after artists finish painting.

Entry information is available at www.ashland.or.us/utilitybox.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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