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Wrapped in art: downtown Napa utility boxes decorated by local artists
Public Art

Wrapped in art: downtown Napa utility boxes decorated by local artists

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Walk down just about any sidewalk in a commercial area, and at many intersections, you’ll come across utility boxes. Some house phone lines, others the controls for traffic lights and what not. All are usually grey or khaki green, terribly faded from the sun, and ugly. None of them are even close to appealing or interesting.

That’s no longer the case in downtown Napa. This year, 13 of those boxes have been covered with artwork from local artists at intersections along First, Second, Third, Pearl and Jefferson streets as well as Soscol Avenue. Two installations are farther east on the Silverado Trail, one at the five-way crossing with Third Street and another at the Trail’s First Street intersection.

The downtown project draws its inspiration from an earlier cabinet-art gallery, in which the Rail Arts District sponsored the decoration of a dozen metal boxes along the Napa Valley Wine Train in 2018.

For their artwork to be considered for this latest project, artists submitted copies of their proposed art work. Submissions were reviewed by two panels, one made up of city staff and community based artists, and another by the “PBID” committee, which is funding the effort.

“PBID” is the Napa Property Based Improvement District. PBID membership is comprised of all property owners in the downtown and Oxbow areas. That board, sort of the property owners’ counterpart to the Downtown Napa Association, is always looking for ways to help downtown businesses.

When the city rolled out its parklet program, the PBID Committee set aside $190,000 to provide grants for businesses to build them. PBID introduced the hanging flower basket program downtown five years ago and is also responsible for rooftop lighting, Christmas decorations and the Christmas tree in Veterans Park.

“PBID members are committed to making downtown an interesting and aesthetically pleasing experience for Napa residents and visitors,” said Ryan Gregory, PBID Committee chair. “The utility boxes provided an opportunity to turn the ordinary into something special that people could enjoy. The artwork that we selected is varied – some of it whimsical, some thought provoking while others are simply beautiful art. It’s the proverbial turning lemons into lemonade.”

Michael Holcomb Jr., a member of both the PBID committee and of the Napa Rail Arts District (also known as “RAD”) brought the idea of wrapping utility boxes to PBID. For him, it began personally.

“My son was born prematurely, and spent his first five months in Walnut Creek. We were there constantly,” said Holcomb who noticed that many boxes were wrapped in art. “It’s a big deal down there.”

Bringing that to Napa was a natural for him. “The art in Napa is already fantastic,” Holcomb said.

“PBID is the perfect vehicle to provide this,” said Holcomb. ”It’s an improvement to downtown that locals can appreciate and enjoy, and visitors will like it as well.”

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Craig Smith is Executive Director at Downtown Napa Association.

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