As an artist in Santa Cruz, which has possibly the highest per-capita number of artists in the US, I am always surprised when I am awarded a contract which was open to the public. In September 2013 I was informed that I had been awarded two traffic boxes on busy street corners in Santa Cruz County. The practice of applying art to traffic boxes was begun in 2002 by the city for dual purposes of beautification and reduction of graffiti cleanup cost. The county soon followed suit. The plain metal boxes, about four feet high by three feet wide, stand on every corner that has a stoplight, and contain the electronics running the lights. I’m not sure why they are so big – my laptop does a million times the math and is only an inch thick. Anyway, these monoliths attract taggers, and city dwellers know one tag begets another. Once a site is established as the taggers’ territorial pissing-station, it never reverts back to innocence, even if the tags are regularly cleaned. Constant cleaning costs money. Only making it a community cultural asset will register on the conscience of vandals. Turns out human nature can be gamed – vandals will respect art-covered street furniture, while they will tag the plain-colored version.
Painting a box on a busy street corner is a form of performance art. You feel exposed. Vehicles sometimes come close, taking the corner at high speed – that wakes you up. Drivers stopped at the light make comments, mostly “I love your work, do you do all of them?” One driver wanted so badly to compliment me she almost caused an accident. From the drivers point of view, its something you don’t see every day, and I’ll bet they never noticed the box before. Making it art renders it visible, and an asset rather than a maintenance expense.
– Doug Ross is an artist and illustrator in Santa Cruz, CA.