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Eugene art project makes light of traffic signal boxes.

By Kelly House

EUGENE — Pedestrians and drivers in downtown Eugene might notice something different about the traffic signal boxes that occupy space at street corners with traffic lights. The difference will be if they notice the boxes at all.

Last month, the gray cubes, which house electrical equipment to operate traffic lights, were made over with loud, whimsical, colorful murals, turning infrastructure into art.  You might have mistaken Bayne Gardner for a graffiti artist if you saw him drawing a masked face on the steel box at the corner of 10th Avenue and Oak Street. In fact, Eugene’s city government was paying Gardner to paint the drab, unassuming box with eye-catching art. 

 Since last month, murals from four local artists have cropped up on 15 downtown street corners. A final one will be completed at the corner of Franklin Boulevard and Onyx Street within the next week or so. The murals, which are unusual in appearance and in placement, interact with citizens more strongly than an oil painting tucked away in the library, and reflect the current art scene more aptly than a metal sculpture in the park. 

The city recruited artists through social media and newspaper advertisements.  The artist painted five boxes each, at a rate of $300 for small boxes and $500 for large boxes. 

Eugene isn’t the first to use its utility boxes as canvases. Santa Cruz, Calif., Seattle, Little Rock, Ark., and several other cities in the U.S. and abroad have sponsored initiatives similar to “Art the Box.”  In Eugene, artists’ work was strategically placed to fit the aesthetic of downtown streets. 

 “The response I wanted was exactly what I got from people,” Huhn says. “They said, ‘oh, these just make me happy.'"

The images are designed to last two years. They serve a dual purpose of enlivening a bland surface and deterring graffiti taggers. Each is covered with a layer of graffiti prevention coating. If a box is tagged, the graffiti can be wiped off without damaging the artwork. Citizens toured the boxes during August’s First Friday ArtWalk, and listened as the artists talked about their work. 

Marquez says no more public events are planned, but those interested in touring the boxes can easily do so. Use the map with this story to conduct a personal walking tour of the artful infrastructure.