Utility and Art: Designing Public Art with a Purpose
by: Chris Taylor, Graphic Designer
“SLO Box Art is a streetscape showcase for talented local artists and community members to transform standard utility boxes into new public artworks, adding to the vibrancy of our cityscape while creating a sense of place and identity.” - City of San Luis Obispo
Art is everywhere. Most people’s misconception about art is that it only resides in museums and galleries. However, art is most commonly experienced through our mindless, everyday activities.
Art is the music coming from your speakers, the words from your pen flowing onto paper, and the movement of your clothing.
Art is also a utility box, an object we pass on our daily commute with indifference. Government utilities have an impressive ability of becoming invisible. That is, until they stop working.
Several years ago, San Luis Obispo created a program for local artists to showcase their talent by painting city utility boxes. By painting these boxes, we, as artists and community members, draw attention to the visual allure of the mundane things that are overshadowed by the elegance of SLO.
Upon hearing that the City of SLO was calling for submissions for utility box artwork, I felt a calling in my heart to participate.
The only thing is... I’m not a painter. I don’t consider myself an artist. How could my painting stand out from the hundreds of proposals the city received from people who do this professionally?
Well, as it turns out, marrying art and utility is my profession. As a graphic designer, I spend my day developing and producing visual solutions. Coupling this mindset with being less concerned with my technical fine arts skillset, I could tackle this as I would any other design related task.
My first step was to stop thinking about what I wanted to create, and to start thinking about who my audience is.
Next, I researched the process each submission goes through. This includes an Advisory Body Review by the Parks and Recreations Commissions and Architectural Review Commission. The City Council also has to review and approve each box artwork as well.
My research informed and directed my design. I wanted to please every stakeholder involved in submission review process. At this stage, logic was more effective than creativity.
I knew the City Council would be filled with members passionate about their beloved city. In comparison, I knew the Architectural Review would be filled with members less excited by pretty and more intrigued by technical.
Combining these ideas I knew my box art had to have two elements: historical significance (Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa) and city advancement (Cal Poly College of Architecture and Environmental Design).
Now, this step is where creativity comes into the process. With the conceptualization of my SLO box art concept in my head, I transferred these ideas into a design that would be impactful.
My meticulous process earned me participation in the SLO Box Art Project 2018. This led me to the final step in my creative process: execution. Standing in a field on the side of the road in the summer heat to paint my box felt dedicated, since I was creating value for an otherwise mundane object.
Although this outline was an artistic endeavor, these steps can be applied diversely into one’s life. Always think creatively and at the very least the results will stand out from the rest.