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Box Fresh artfully enlivens utility boxes in Marcy-Holmes

For drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians in Dinkytown and the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood in Minneapolis, the view has gotten more interesting. The Box Fresh Utility Wraps Project, an initiative spearheaded by the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association (MHNA) and The Soap Factory, was unveiled July 25 and will be on view through the remainder of the summer.

The initiative paid for six artists to transform six utility boxes at high-visibility intersections. "We wanted to use this opportunity as a showcase for professional artists," many of them local, says Chris Lautenschlager of MHNA. "For well over a decade, Marcy-Holmes has conceptualized its streets as an urban gallery," he adds. As examples he points to the Moroni sculptures on 6th Avenue SE and the murals scattered around Dinkytown.

Scott Bean, whose box is at 326 6th Avenue SE, is a local resident and former instructor at the Marcy Open School. Candy Kuehn, whose work is at 327 14th Avenue SE, is a Minneapolis artist. Tony Chrenka and Christina Laskowski, a recent University of Minnesota graduate, are both former residents: Their boxes appear at 1300 4th Street SE and 100 University Avenue SE, respectively.

Though not a resident, Norbert Marklin has collaborated on various art projects with Marcy Open School staff and students. Rachel Orman is an active Marcy Open School parent and patron of the Southeast Library.

Utility boxes are bulky, ground-based assemblies located at intersections with traffic lights. "Their primary purpose is to control the nearby traffic signals," Lautenschlager says. "We chose these locations, along or near University Avenue SE and 4th Street SE, because of their maximized visibility to passing cars, bicycles and pedestrians."

According to the MHNA press release, the artwork ranges from "traditional painting to contemporary conceptual." The project had a price tag of about $12,000. The TCF Bank Stadium Good Neighbor Fund, a neighborhood improvement fund administered by the Stadium Area Advisory Group (which in turn is associated with the University District Alliance), provided $5200.

Although the MHNA had never undertaken a project like this, Lautenschlager says the organization drew inspiration from "Thinking Out of the Box," an initiative undertaken by south Minneapolis' Kingfield Neighborhood Association in 2009 and 2010.

MHNA has plans for more eye-catching street features. The MHNA recently received another Good Neighbor grant to fund a "wayfinding project" for the Dinkytown Greenway, which serves the greater U of M area. "[We'll be] adding signage that will lead to the Dinkytown Greenway and point people in the desired directions away from it," says Lautenschlager.

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