As many of us have seen, there’s a fun and colorful phenomenon happening in Benicia. As part of a public art initiative, local artists are painting the rather drab grey traffic signal boxes around town in bright, graphic motifs.
The process began over a year ago, based on a vision for additional public art by members of the Arts and Culture Commission (ACC) chaired by Terry Scott. According to Terry, the traffic signal boxes were seen as an opportunity to raise the level of public art in Benicia. “What are the hidden gems in the city that everybody notices but the public doesn’t see? We are covering the majority of the most visible boxes in stage one. Anywhere there’s a traffic light, there’s a traffic control box. They have been there forever, but we look past them,” he says.
Painted by artists who reside in Benicia, the painted boxes are a surprise—a pop of color and whimsy in our suburban landscape. It’s hard not to smile when you see them. They also come with a theme: the box by the library appropriately features a cozy bookcase filled with books and other objects; at Rose Drive and East 2nd Streets, the bright yellow box’s theme is bumblebees. “We are working with the City staff for a faster approval process,” says Terry. “My attitude is go, go, go! Once you have momentum, you get up and get it moving.”
The commission’s vision was presented to the city council for approval in 2017. The ACC and city staff created a process for how the public art is chosen and where it can be located. A review panel selected sites for the boxes and the process wended its way through the appropriate channels at the city. “Those sites were reviewed with city staff to determine who owned them and if they could be painted,” says Terry. A call for artists ensued and design proposals were submitted and reviewed—and phase one designs were approved.
The ACC raises funds for art projects through private fundraising, much of which is generated by the annual Benicia Film Festival, sponsored by the ACC and the Downtown Benicia Alliance. This year’s event is August 31-September 2, at the Veteran’s Hall and Majestic Theater on First Street.
The commission is looking to identify other surfaces that could also be covered with art, making public art more visible and accessible, and enhancing Benicia’s reputation as an arts community.