Art that stops traffic: Kent unveils art-wrapped traffic signal control boxes
A flying weasel sails across a blue sky at the intersection of 240th and 104th. A friendly group of colorful cartoon creatures has taken up residence on James Street across from ShoWare Center. A bright garden of graphic dahlias appears to grow out of the sidewalk on 256th Street across from Kent-Meridian High School.
What began a year ago as a partnership between several City departments to deter graffiti and beautify unsightly boxes that control traffic signals has resulted in five artworks located throughout the community.
The project was first suggested by Kent Police Department staff as a way to prevent graffiti on traffic signal controller boxes, which frequently serve as blank canvases for taggers. The Kent Arts Commission quickly came on board, offering to fund and spearhead the project.
“We saw it as an opportunity to contribute artwork to highly visible streetscapes,” Dan Cox, 2017 Chair of the Arts Commission said.
The City’s Economic and Community Development Department contributed additional funding for boxes located in the downtown area, and the Public Works Department jumped in to help out with selecting frequently vandalized boxes and preparing them for the application of artwork.
The Arts Commission extended the opportunity to design a box to professional and emerging artists residing in Washington State. The artists could work in any medium, as long as the final artwork could be translated and digitally reproduced on a two-dimensional vinyl wrap. Nearly 50 applications were received, and five artists were selected and commissioned to design artwork for different box locations.
Jean Bradbury’s fantastically floating creatures and flowers appear on a box at 240th and 104th.
The graphic dahlia flowers that adorn the box across from Kent-Meridian High School on 256th and 101st were originally a wood mosaic by artist Naoko Morisawa.
Jill Erickson’s “Backyard Blueberry” greets travelers with colorful, watercolor foliage on Willis Street at the North-bound Highway 167 on-ramp.
Vikram Madan’s “Bumble Bee Brigade” sets a whimsical scene on James Street at the Interurban Trail with friendly bumble bees carrying mysterious, elf-like riders across a bubble-gum pink sky.
And, also on James Street, across from the ShoWare Center, Fin’es Scott’s curious cartoon creatures peer at drivers and pedestrians.
The head-turning installations transform their locations into outdoor galleries, giving drivers something bright and interesting to look at when they’re stuck in traffic and making passersby smile. Each artist brought a distinct style to their box, giving the project a range of themes and styles.
So far, the art-wrapped boxes seem to be doing their job as graffiti deterrents as well, with only one incident of tagging, which was easily wiped off the vinyl surface.
Response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive, with enthusiastic feedback across all ages and various segments of Kent’s population. Plans are in the works to complete another round of the project in 2018. The Kent Arts Commission has allocated additional funding to complete up to eight boxes this year.
Be on the lookout for more traffic-stopping art along Kent streets!
Written by Ronda Billerbeck,Cultural Programs Manager. Photos by Josh Gonzalez, Art Direction Coordinator.