Utility box art comes to Standish-Ericsson in Minneapolis


A new type of art has begun appearing in our neighborhoods this fall. Perhaps you have noticed the bright dragonfly outside the Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub (2716 E. 38th St.) or the painted boxes near the 38th St. light-rail station. These used to be the drab utility boxes that still can be seen on many corners. But in five places, local artists have created something unique and more satisfying to the eye.

Their basic purpose, however, is to discourage graffiti. The gray boxes tend to invite tagging, but boxes covered by art are respected and left alone. Other areas of Minneapolis have found that painting or wrapping the boxes decreases graffiti, and several Minneapolis neighborhoods are currently choosing from a set of city-approved utility-box wraps designed by local artists. The particular project in the Standish and Ericsson neighborhoods is sponsored by SENA, using money from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program that was earmarked for fighting graffiti. A call went out last spring for artists to paint boxes, and five artists were chosen.

The painter of the dragonfly is Julie Bode, who finds inspiration walking in the neighborhood, especially along Lake Hiawatha. She says, “I enjoy sitting by the lake, oftentimes planning my current projects.” She runs a graphic design studio out of her home and enjoys “stretching my fine art muscles with my painting as another creative outlet.”

In order to be chosen for the project, the artists had to have some connection with Standish and/or Ericsson, and they were asked to express in some way the theme “Our Neighborhood.” Morgan Tsan, whose box is on 38th St. at 30th Ave., wanted to feature community and shared spaces. She saw the shape of the box as an apartment building and put various people and scenes in the windows to represent the diversity of the Standish Neighborhood.

Kimberly Aaron painted the box outside the Cardinal Restaurant and Bar (2920 E. 38th St.). As a Spanish language and literature instructor at a local university and a person who enjoys traveling, she pays attention to cultures and especially to subcultures within the dominant one. Her box features a young woman with her head covered. It’s located just two blocks from Roosevelt High School, where many students from other countries and cultures are studying in its English Language Learning program.

Laura Burtis, whose double box is at 23rd Ave. S. and E. 38th St., chose to show Lake Hiawatha, with its familiar paths and park building. Her whimsical picture has mermaids of all ethnicities frolicking in the lake. Laura swims in the lake frequently in the summer.

The box at 28th Ave. S. and E. 44th St., painted by Gail Harbeck, pays tribute to the animal life in our area—both pets and the wild animals in our urban setting. The painting recognizes the deep relationships between people and the animals in their lives.

All the finished boxes are covered with an anti-graffiti coating so that they can’t accept additional paint and also to protect them from the weather. They will last a long time and will join the many local murals in making the Standish and Ericsson neighborhoods a destination spot for outdoor art.