Long ignored, the lowly traffic control signal box is getting some attention in Eugene. Artists hired by the city have painted 15 of the boxes, converting them from drab, easily overlooked steel cabinets to colorful, whimsical street art.
The final box in the series, at Franklin Boulevard and Onyx Street near the University of Oregon, could be painted next week. People passing by the artists as they painted some of the boxes in recent weeks would strike up conversations. “The first question people would ask is, ‘Do you have a permit to do this?’” artist Wendy Huhn said. That was followed by “Are you getting paid?” Altogether, the city will have paid four artists a total of $5,400 for their work, said Isaac Marquez, the city’s public art manager. The artists received $300 per small box and $500 for each large one.
The response to their work has been overwhelmingly positive, the artists said, though some passers-by grumbled about the city paying them with public funds. “As I was painting, people would yell (compliments) from cars and tourists would stop and they would want their pictures taken (with the boxes),” Huhn said. “Some tourists said ‘My city or county would never let me do that.’”
The painted boxes are the latest step in a continuing effort to bring public art downtown — even while municipal government faces a serious budget problem. Last year, the city paid student artists to put up creations in and around the city center. Those pieces included discarded flat screen TVs with anti-TV messages, foam monkeys hanging on light poles and inscriptions drawn on some of the same traffic signal control boxes that were recently painted.
This summer, Huhn, Bryan Putnam and Alex Southworth were selected from 12 applicants for the traffic signal box makeover effort called “Art the Box.” Mike Olsen, who works downtown, said the fanciful boxes are “Eugenish.” But the new art is an improvement over last year, he said, when the student artists painted “poetic fragments” on many of the same traffic control boxes. “It looked like graffiti,” Olsen said. “This is art.”
One of Olsen’s favorites was painted by Huhn at the northeast corner of 13th Avenue and Willamette Street, near a FedEx office. “It’s an eye catcher,” Olsen said.
The box has seven bicycles silhouetted in white on a bright yellow backdrop dominated by three dimensional, multi-colored circles. The bikes are a tribute to bicyclist David Minor, 27, who was struck and killed by a motorist five years ago as he tried to make a left turn at the busy intersection. Huhn’s piece is within a few feet of a memorial to Minor, a white-painted bicycle near the corner that has a laminated photograph of Minor and a sign that reads “Start Seeing Everyone.” Huhn said she wanted the five boxes that she painted to be cheerful and bright, and to put people into a good mood. “Most people look at these and say ‘They make me happy,’ ” she said. Olsen said he’s OK with the city paying for the art as long as the money doesn’t come from city taxpayers. “This is not an essential service,” he said. “What my eyes look at is not something that the taxpayers should be paying for.”
The artists were paid from the city’s cultural services sub fund, which receives most of its $4 million annual allotment from the city’s share of the hotel room tax and revenues generated by the Hult Center for Performing Arts and Cuthbert Amphitheater. The artists were not paid from the city’s mainly property tax supported general fund, which earlier this year had a $5 million gap because the steadily rising cost of employee wages, health care and retirement are outpacing the growth in property taxes.
The gap, which threatened library, recreation, parks and other programs, led to the ill-fated city services fee, which voters overwhelmingly rejected in May. In June, the City Council temporarily plugged the gap and balanced the budget with one-time funds, leaving the council and the budget committee to come up with a long-term solution.
Budget committee member Mark Rust said it makes sense to use money from the hotel tax, which is paid by visitors, to beautify downtown, instead of from the stressed general fund. “I would have some concern about how often we are doing these kinds of programs and how much the artists are being paid,” he said.
“But I also trust the management of the departments, that they are looking for ways to make an impression without a huge expenditure. This is a way that fits that bill.” Rust earlier this summer saw painted traffic control boxes in Boise, Idaho. “As a tourist in Boise, I thought it was attractive and could help Eugene tourism,” he said. Putnam, one of the three artists, said he can understand why some people might think paying artists to paint traffic control boxes is a frivolous use of public money.
However, he said, the response from passersby while he was working on the boxes shows that many people think the money was well spent. “Most people were glad we were being paid by the city because they appreciated what (the art) does for everyone who moves around downtown,” Putnam said. “It help to revitalize the area, and it gives downtown more life, more color, more culture.”
A committee selected the three artists from among 12 who had submitted images of their proposed work. Putnam, 26, who is working on a master’s degree in art at the UO, said his paintings were inspired by nature. The box at East Eighth Avenue and Oak Street includes thistle-topped vines and yellow mustard plant flowers on a tan, wood-like background. His other pieces feature depictions of forest life, including tree branches, moss, water, animals and the Northern Lights
“The project for me was offering little pieces of the wilderness in the center of Eugene,” he said. Artist Bayne Gardner, who had unsuccessfully applied to paint five boxes, won a people’s choice contest on Facebook, so the city hired him to paint the large box at 10th Avenue and Willamette Street, next to the Downtown Athletic Club. Gardner said painting in public was enjoyable because of the conversations he had with people.
“I came back and painted a lot more than I expected because it was so much fun to interact with people,” Gardner said. “It was a different type of experience than painting a picture by yourself.” Putnam estimated that by the time he completes the box at Franklin and Onyx, he will have spent more than 70 hours painting, not including the time he spent working on the concepts in the studio or preparing his application.
As part of the commission, the artists must maintain their paintings for two years. If someone mars their works with graffiti, for example, the artists must remove it. The artists applied a clear, protective coating to their work, to make it easier to remove graffiti. But standing next to his piece at Sixth Avenue and Willamette Street, Putnam noticed that someone had used a sharp object to scrape small vertical lines on the surface of his painting.
“It’s not so bad,” Putnam said. “I will probably come back and fill it in.” As she walked by the painted box at Eighth Avenue and Willamette Street, resident Ellen Chamberlain said she likes most of the boxes she has seen. “It’s just a way to mask the ugliness of the boxes,” she said. Visitors to Eugene are noticing the boxes, too. Out-of-town relatives had recently visited Chamberlain, and whenever they would pass a painted box, they would exclaim, “ ‘Look there’s another one,’ ” she said.”
(that is the above Eugene Oregon newspaper that some people here read; and that is the front page news, that the city of Eugene has decided to spend $5,400, and give the money to University of Oregon arts students, to paint all the cities traffic control boxes on the streets. this is a city that is completely broke, by at least $6 million; they don’t have enough money for mental health emergencies, or schools, or anything else that is truly necessary to survive; at least for a city and its people to survive.
But that doesn’t matter here in Eugene Oregon! The only thing that really matters here is PUBLIC ART! PUBLIC ART, that little hazardous government supported piece of bull shit most people can’t stand, because most people are SANE.
insidious, liberal Huge-Govt., and tax wasting type of art, that you pass by outside or in a government building, and it’s huge, looks like a piece of broken cardboard box, and the artist got paid at least $20,000 for.
As I was saying to Carol,after I got done reading “the Eugene daily” online, “yes,” I said to her, inviting her to a cup of coffee; “There go our taxes spread all over the taffic boxes on the street! When we don’t have schools, or food to eat here,and there are no jobs, or business or industry, we’ve got PUBLIC ART to waste all our taxes on! “
“I guess we’re just lucky that the mayor, Kitty meow meow, is such a public art fiend, and spends all our tax money on that. Otherwise, we’d be in the BLACK, not in the RED ,and Mayor Kitty has decided the city looks better painted in RED.”
“I would move out of this County, and this city if I could,” said Carol, sourly, looking for the milk pitcher. “But I can’t sell this stupid real estate, any more than I can sell a dead dog carcass. If all those tourists like our “public art” so much,why don’t they buy my Detroit-worthless real estate,and pay my taxes?!”
“Yeah, me too,but I heard, the Mainland CHINESE are buying up all the Detroit-slums.”I said. Carol replied,astonished;”Are you KIDDING? WHAT are they gonna do with the residents?” “What did they do with those revolting students?”
“UGH!!” Carol almost spat out her coffee;”HEY! What if the Chinese buy up all the Lane county land,no one can sell?”she offered.”Would all the wealthy Chinks move HERE,like they did to Australia,in huge amts.? OH,CRAP!!” I replied,grimly,”They won’t pay you much; they are notoriously CHEAP. They’ll want your land for nothing.”
“Do you think the Chinese like BLACK PEOPLE very much?” Carol said thoughtfully. She had to get me smelling salts to stop my laughing, HO-HO-HOING,and rolling on the floor with consumptive giggling.”CAROL!!” I managed to wheeze out, burbling up my coffee, “The Hom Chinese, don’t even like other similar RACES or peoples in their own country!! They kill em all off!”
I had Death-Chuckles. “They would invade CANADA, cause its on the US border, like they do in China!!! WHERE have you been?!”
She replied,”Reading the Eugene-Register-Guard, they don’t talk about much but SPORTS..How the Ducks of University of Oregon football team is doing.”She yawned.”There’s nothing else to do in this Burg. DRINK BEER; EAT PIZZA; WATCH THE DUCKS on tv, spout left-wing extremist-socialist-organic bull- shit; oh, and COMPOST. (But that fits in with the BS.)”
She paused; “I guess the Chinese would like it in Eugene, and Lane County;its a dictatorship by a rich upperclass; they TELL US what to do,and we pay them money to be dictated over; we have GROSS Left-liberal dogma, you can’t go against.Like, if you don’t like Gayness, or Organic food,or vegans, you have to leave. You are FORCED to ACCEPT the local ethics and morals; Everyone else here is POOR. I guess they’d like it pretty well.”
I nodded in agreement; “Old home week.” “What should we do for amusement?” she yawned.I had an idea;”Let’s go LOOK AT ALL THE PAINTED TRAFFIC BOXES!!” “Can we stop off,later, for a pizza at IZZY’S?” “Pineapple and rotten ham-flanks?” “You got it! How about the local Boar’s Snout Ale?” “OK, if you can put up with the orange head on it.”
Carol and I decided to table our discussion of our “Sister Country,” get a map of where all the painted traffic boxes were, and snag the local cuisine. We drove around, downtown, all over; the weather was very hot, and raining; another monsoon in Oregon. Would Indian immigration in Oregon be far behind? More likely SYRIAN; not immigrants, just invaders.Same diff!
Carol spotted the first traffic box,across the street, and we parked Kitty corner, on a Kitty corner, around the corner, illegally, and walked over. So far, at a distance it was nothing spectacular. Just the taxes.
.”Is that it”?It’s all yellow,and creepy, with little green horns in it.” Carol squinted, trying to make out the PUBLIC ART we had all splurged on,.trying to make some sense out of it; so far,.just cents-$$$$$.
“It has the slighted influence of Picasso, and a tidbit of El Greco,merged with the affluent smear of El Crappo, “I mused. getting up close.”Uh..that’s right, you know a lot about art.” replied Carol, impressed. “NO,. I know NOTHING about Art.”I admitted.” I went to the University of Oregon,kiddo!!
” I used to see that dead paintinng teacher?The one they named all the galleries after? She stank! She couldn’t paint her way out of a dirty-beer-barrel; she just GLOPPED all the paint on,in huge huks!! You know what they called her,behind her back?”
“What?” “Ms-Can’t-Do-It-So-Gotta-Teach-it”!” “That’s a long nick=name.” “Yeah, we all just called her “STUPID” for short.”That and other names I can’t say aloud.”
I paused; she loved public art; and PUBIC ART! All the PUBIC ART she could get her hands on!”
“I begin to get your drift, “ahemmed Carol.,. still peering at the masterpiece. The art-jaunt was getting boring; “Did you guys really smoke dope in art class,like they say?” asked Carol. “NO, the Basic Design teacher showed stag movies, and bad-mouthed the DAR a lot.”
“So you guys…” “Right, we were ASLEEP a lot.”
“And here I heard the 60’s campuses had such riots!” “We did have “SLEEP-INS”; that was true! I never dreamed, the only art I would see, making money here , would be PUBLIC ART.oH.WELL,. better than—” “Lots more PUBIC ART,.”Finished Carol for me.
“This stuff is more sleep-inducing than I thought. let’s go pizza now.” We agreed to go study the beauty of an anchovie-cheeze, and were just walking back to our car,.when Carol said”HEY!!Is that another photographer?”
I turned around.”No.that’s not a camera;” A couple of dark, hooded figures had walked up to the traffic box we were leaving; “That’s a —paint SPRAY-CAN!I OH-OH!”
The two figures pulled cans out of a large bag,rapidly, and started to spray them at the traffic box. “They’re spraying PAINT ON THE PAINTING!” gasped Carol. watching them in horror.”Should we call the police?”
We got in the car, in a hurry, turned it on,and I said”NO. we should give them a MEDAL!!! It’s TRUE PUBLIC ART!! The kind real artists do, who no one has to pay cash to, graphiti artists!!”
It was true; we drove off,and the two dark figures had already sprayed and written all over the traffic box and the whole pole,and were busy signing their names in wonderful squiggles and cartoonies.
“This must be their neighborhood. you know.their territory?” I said. “And they’re taking it back!” “Well, they can have it. “said Carol, carefully aiming the car far and away.”That public art-stuff is not any better; in fact, it looks WORSE. And it takes thousands of bucks,.of art degrees,. just to smear paint on a traffic box? And all the training and education? When your neighborhood Rembrandt can do it better, just from watching too many cartoons?!! SHIT. WHO NEEDS IT?”
“Maybe we should encourage them.”I mused. “Can we swing back around, in a tight manuever?” She did that. I dropped a twenty-dollar bill out of the window,. and yelled in their direction .”nice stuff, guys!” and drove off, as the two figures bent over the green-back.
“Was a 20 enough?”I asked Carol. “5 thousand was too much!”growled Carol, grimly,as we headed for beer and Deep-Dish-cheese. Our city-sojourn with PUBLIC ART at an end,to a very nice ending.
Hey, it is art! NO. not the PUBLIC ART. THE GRAPHITI!! GRAPHITI IS ART, AND EVEN MUSEUMS KNOW THAT NOW!! So WHY art students should throw thousands and millions of bucks at the University of Art dept., when they could be doing ARMY DRAFTING, in the Marines,or Navy (which they would wind up doing anyhow. given the state of “art-employment” even during the best of times, in the good old USA)
–OR working for civil-service as art teachers at the U.of O. (BARF! THE IDEA MAKES YA THROW UP!)— PUBLIC ART is probably as far as those student artists, would get. Don’t ask how I found out; those students must be bulging with bucks, really rich bitches,who else could go to the art dept.and graduate with an art degree?
Unless he was going to return to his billions in NYC. and go “play at being an artist and a socialite”, rather than working for 8 bucks an hour at KINKO’S. Cause if those little Master of arts students,. were painting traffic boxes,. in hopes of a ART-PAID FUTURE. HA HA HA HAA—OH NO. I’m going to laugh hysterically again!
Can’t you just see their future, where they teach students” Course-One-A: Traffic-Box-Painting: oil paint,. acrylics.No pre-requisites. 2 Credits.”
But NO ONE has to teach a graphiti artist how to paint; they know what they’re doing.they are self-disciplined(and cop-chased) and their own institution of learning is Jerry’s Hardware.
I cannot think of a more democratic, Truly American way of Art. But then, sigh, Eugene is not really IN THE UNITED STATES,. IS IT??
It’s claim is independence, and not having to live by the rules the rest of us have to follow. Let’s just hope the Hom Chinese don’t take a liking to the green, parched. hot,. wet.and poor, Oregon; I know what Chinese art looks like.
The old Chinese art is thousands of years old, beautiful, and not likely to die off that soon.
PUBLIC ART? It’s INTERNATIONAL ART. —just like graphiti. 🙂
🙂 (Sandraminadotty. signing ofF. from the table of ABBY’S PIZZA. THE PACIFIC-NORTHWESTS’S BEST AND YUMMIEST PIZZA!! RIGHT HERE IN DELICIOUS CAPRICIOUS EUGENE OREGON. THE CESS-POOL OF THE WESTERN WORLD. (HEY. DO I get paid for that commercial? I did it didn’t I. without any pay?How about paying me off in pizza? Delivery included? ALL-RIGHT!! 😀 ) (no anchovies. no raw onions) .. ….