As you have driven, walked, biked and skateboarded around the City of Destiny, you have likely come across three-dimensional works of art that also serve a practical purpose. These utilitarian hunks of metal are traffic control boxes and they contain the electrical components that run the pedestrian crosswalk signals, traffic lights, and so on, at each intersection.
Traffic control boxes in the city of Tacoma do not look like ordinary traffic control boxes. As the result of a brilliant idea, the City of Tacoma decided to launch a project that would cover these otherwise mundane metal beasts with original artwork created by local artists.
The Traffic Box Wrap Project, part of the Tacoma Murals Project, was instituted for a variety of reasons.
One, if people were going to pepper the boxes with graffiti, why not beat them to the punch and cover them with the art of highly skilled artists?
Two, the project provides local artists with a permanent and highly visible exhibit of their work.
And three, the wrapped boxes really do beautify the city and raise Tacoma’s status to that of other cities such as Miami and New York City, beacons to art lovers around the globe.
Cultural Arts Specialist for the City of Tacoma, Naomi Strom-Avila explains, “The Traffic Box Wrap Project was developed in 2015 as a way to enhance the public realm by adding unique works of art by local artists to public infrastructure that is often targeted by vandalism. These boxes are necessary pieces of public infrastructure, why not make them beautiful, interesting and thought provoking wayfinders while we are at it?”
All types of local artists were involved in the project. Tom Llewllyn and Lance Kagey together form Beautiful Angle, and have been friends for 30 years. Their wrap box features the colors and symbols of the Chinese zodiac.
“The piece is a kind of retrospective of 12 years of the Beautiful Angle posters we’ve made annually in honor of Chinese New Year,” says Llewllyn. “We’ve done a Chinese New Year poster every year as part of the Monkeyshines project.”
He goes on, “For the box wrap, Lance did the design and I wrote the words. The idea behind the words and pictures is about connectivity. All we citizens of Tacoma—we are all connected to each other as we live between this thin space between heaven and earth.”
Adds Kagey, “Part of Beautiful Angle’s motivation is to be out in our neighborhood and engaging with community. This project allowed us one more opportunity to connect with other artists, be involved together in the life of Tacoma.”
Katie Dean, another wrap box artist, explains the idea behind her box: “My idea was to create a wishing box. The imagery is a combination of Christian, Buddhist and Muslim symbols/inspiration. The text written around the side and on the front conveys ideas of dreams, hopes and desire. I wanted to align those with the idea of faith and spirituality.”
The city has received enthusiastic feedback from Tacoma residents.
“I’ve heard from parents who do scavenger hunts of the boxes with their children as they are driving around Tacoma,” shares Strom-Avila. “I’ve heard from a school that used the box wraps for a classroom project. And, although the project is on hiatus at the moment, we continue to get inquiries and requests from community members who have seen the artwork wraps and want to beautify their own neighborhood traffic box with a wrap as well.”
Seems like the City of Tacoma Traffic Box Wrap Project was a winner with everyone.
“It was a fun project to be a part of,” agrees Dean.