Art-Covered Utility Boxes Transform the City

Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader | Last week’s reception was held at the Garry Marshall Theatre which, in the wake of the pandemic, is now presenting live productions again.

First published in the March 5 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Human expression and environmental adornment have been presented through various forms of art since the dawn of time.

Just as stones, wood and the walls of caves inspired our prehistoric ancestors as a canvas for their creativity, there has never been a time or place in the history of our world that hasn’t seen people transform natural or utilitarian objects into decorative works of art.

In 2004, the people of Fort Collins, Colorado, began noticing that their city’s utility boxes were taking on a different look. Implementing a creative way to abate graffiti on the boxes, the city invited local artists to take up their paints, palettes and brushes in the fight against the unsightly boxes.

Proving to be a successful way to handle the situation, the program spread from one city to another throughout the nation, ultimately adopted by many California cities including Burbank.

Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader | Members of the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission at last week’s reception included Lucy Simonyan, Eric Conner, Leah Harrison, Katherine Zoraster, Stefanie Girard, Suzanne Weerts, Jacqueline Brenneman, Cynthia Pease and Rajasri Mallikarjuna.

Since 2015, 48 utility boxes in Burbank have been transformed into works of art by the Burbank Arts Beautification Program, an initiative of the city’s Cultural Arts Commission in partnership with the Parks and Recreation and Public Works Departments.

To encourage community pride, the phased program asked local artists to work under five themes, “Just Imagine,” “A World of Possibilities,” “A World of Entertainment,” “Celebrate Community” and “Memorable Moments,” to come up with creative concepts for the boxes.

The artists selected to paint the boxes for phases four and five were Michelle Speak, William Saenz, Aña-Lisa Siemsen, David Vega, Ricardo Cerezo, Brent Myers, Sam Grinberg, Juliane Crump, Meleny Pichardo, Monika Petroczy, Chad Meserve, Laishan Mui Ito, Riley Dismore, Pauline Hacopian, Taleen Janian, Paul Juno and Cosette Grider.

This past week, to recognize the artists who painted 22 boxes in Magnolia Park and on Burbank Boulevard, thank the sponsors who made the program possible and kick-off the next phase of the program, a VIP reception was held at the Garry Marshall Theatre.

Hosted by the daughter of the late Garry Marshall, Kathleen Marshall, who serves as the theatre’s CEO, and producer Joe Bwarie, the day’s recognition ceremony was presided over by Suzanne Weerts who serves on the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission.

While the event’s main focus was honoring the artists and their sponsors, the day also saw the recognition of Parks and Recreation Department employees Erin Barrows, Noah Altman, Bryce Burton and Doug Fowler for making the event possible, and longtime patron of the arts, Barbara Beckley.

The co-founder and artistic director of the Colony Theatre, Beckley also served on the Cultural Arts Commission, was a member of the board of the Burbank Arts For All Foundation, and was instrumental in bringing the utility box beautification program to Burbank.

Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader | A full complement of Burbank’s elected officials, including Councilmembers Bob Frutos and Sharon Springer, state Sen. Anthony Portantino, Mayor Jess Talamantes, Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony and Councilman Nick Schultz, attended the reception.

Along with a full complement of the Burbank City Council and Cultural Arts Commission, state Sen. Anthony Portantino was also in attendance for the event. Sharing the fact that he is a big supporter of the arts, he told the assemblage that he is constantly delighted when he comes across each painted box.

“Whenever I’m driving around Burbank and see one, I stop, take a picture of it, and then send it to my daughter,” Portantino said. “She loves seeing them so much that she actually responds to my texts, which, as any parent knows, is a big deal.”

During his remarks, Mayor Jess Talamantes thanked those who have made art accessible and have encouraged and inspired artists of all walks of life through this program.

“What better way for art to be accessible to all than to transform utility boxes into beautiful works of art for everyone to enjoy,” Talamantes said. “This program truly achieves its mission of beautifying Burbank.”

As the program now begins its sixth phase of box beatification under the theme “New Art on the Block,” the focus will be on 12 boxes located along Buena Vista Street. The Cultural Arts Commission will issue a call for artists in April.

After submitting an application, artists will be selected through a competitive process which will require them to meet certain criteria and guidelines. They will then be blindly judged by a selection committee. The deadline for submissions will be in early June with phase six to commence in the late summer.

For information on artist selection or sponsorship opportunities, visit BurbankArts.com or send an email to burbanksarts@burbankca.gov.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.