Large ugly street side utility boxes are a necessary evil for our automobile-centered communities. They control stop lights, cross walk signals and attract graffiti and posters like ants to sugar. The City of Auburn, CA has moved to embrace the refrigerator size utility boxes by having local artists paint micro murals on them. The results are wonderful, and sometimes whimsical, murals that blend in quite nice in this historic gold rush foothill community.
Auburn micro mural bloom over time
To be honest, the first time I really noticed the micro murals was when I saw a woman painting one of the utility boxes white on Auburn-Folsom Road. This was the white primer or base coat before the colors of the mural were to be applied. Then I saw different women working on these utility boxes and had to stop and learn more about the project. (Photo gallery at end of post).
Utility box mural highlight Auburn history and recreation
The City of Auburn, organized by their Arts Commission, selected seventeen street side utility boxes to have micro murals painted on them. In the first phase, eight were completed in the fall of 2014. The second phase, occurring in the summer of 2015, has an additional nine boxes being painted. While the city designated some of the boxes to have a specific theme to highlight Auburn’s historic past or recreational opportunities, local artists were left to their own imagination for the remaining micro murals. Each utility box is painted by a different local artist.
Auburn residents connect with murals and artists
I spoke with Gia McNutt who was painting a fireworks and fair scene on the utility box on the corner of Auburn-Folsom and Pacific Avenue. Gia mentioned there were some guidelines such as the boxes couldn’t be painted with a majority of black because it attracted too much heat to the box. While we were chatting a local resident walked up and thank her for her work and told her how much he like the micro murals around town.
The novice and Chinese dragons
Later in the afternoon I stopped and chatted with Alyssa Troia and Nancy Hakala who were working on the utility box at the corner of Auburn-Folsom Rd. and Sacramento Street. Nancy said that their box was going to have a Chinese theme to highlight the importance of Chinese emigrants to Auburn during the gold rush and the building of the transcontinental railroad. It was a quirk of fate that Alyssa and Nancy met at an Auburn café’ while Alyssa was telling her dad how much she wanted to help paint one of the utility box micro murals. Nancy, who had been selected to paint one of the utility boxes, stepped forward and offered to let Alyssa work with her to paint the mural.
Omen in the sky
As we were talking, Alyssa and Nancy noticed how the wispy clouds in the sky looked like dragons. That must have been a good omen as part of the mural Alyssa and Nancy were preparing to paint included a dragon’s outstretched paw and claws. Take a drive or walk around downtown Auburn and enjoy the micro murals painted on the utility boxes around the area. It’s just one little ways that the City of Auburn is expressing its personality to visitors.