Utility boxes will become art in downtown Elgin

  • Elgin will be launching a new grant program that will make art out of public utility boxes. Amanda Harris, the city's cultural arts manager, stands Monday near one such box at the corner of Highland and Douglas avenues.

      Elgin will be launching a new grant program that will make art out of public utility boxes. Amanda Harris, the city's cultural arts manager, stands Monday near one such box at the corner of Highland and Douglas avenues. Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

  • Amanda Harris, the city's cultural arts manager, stands Monday near one a public utility box at the corner of Highland and Douglas avenues. The city is rolling out a utility box wrapping program and a neighborhood public art grant program.

      Amanda Harris, the city's cultural arts manager, stands Monday near one a public utility box at the corner of Highland and Douglas avenues. The city is rolling out a utility box wrapping program and a neighborhood public art grant program. Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted1/22/2019 5:28 AM

Most people don't notice public utility boxes as they walk down the street, but that's going change in downtown Elgin, where they will become public art.

The utility box wrapping program is one of two initiatives the city plans to roll out this week or next. The other is a neighborhood public art grant program that will be available throughout the city.

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The city will post information online at cityofelgin.org/publicart and on the cultural arts commission page at Facebook.com/culturalartscommission. Applications will be due May 6 with selection in June, said Amanda Harris, the city's cultural arts manager.

"The most important thing is making everything we do specific to Elgin," she said. "We are taking standard procedure and asking, 'Does it fit Elgin?' 'How does it fit Elgin, and why does it fit Elgin?'"

The utility box program will solicit proposals of original artwork to be printed on vinyl and wrapped around the boxes. The commission has budgeted about $2,500 each for two boxes in 2019, including an artist's honorarium of $1,200 to 1,500, Harris said.

The city also will offer individuals and organizations the opportunity to sponsor a wrap. "I already had a couple of organizations excited to do that," Harris said. "I'm looking forward to having a bunch of boxes wrapped this year."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Downtown business owners said they liked the idea. Aurora launched such a program last year, and Tacoma, Vancouver and Toronto also have them.

"It would definitely be the beautification of downtown," Shockey Jewelers owner Peter Schokey said.

"I think Elgin is starting to become more of an artistic hub for people who are trying to develop their artistic skills," said Janira Gavina, manager of Bella's Bridal. "I think it would definitely help the city embody that feeling."

The neighborhood public art grant program will be available to neighborhood groups with 501(c) 3 nonprofit status who can apply for up to $3,250 in funding for three-dimensional works of art to be installed in their neighborhood, Harris said. The groups will be responsible for artwork's care and maintenance.

"It gives the citizens who live in that area the opportunity to improve that area based on what they think is best for them," she said.

"The commission is looking forward to applications that really are specific to the neighborhood, not necessarily something general. The idea goes back to the principle of place-making and really identifying that area. It's not just art for art's sake."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The programs are part of the city's public art plan approved by the city council in 2017. The first phase was the installation of new artwork every year in the downtown. The commission has a budget of $147,000 including $50,000 in arts grants funded by the city's share of proceeds from Grand Victoria Casino.

The public art plan was devised with extensive research done by Harris, who said she called about 165 towns for perspective.

"I think she's done an outstanding job," Mayor David Kaptain said. "We decided seven or eight years ago that we wanted to become the arts center of the Northwest suburbs, and to do that, you have to be able to express yourself and put the art out there for people to see."

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