What once were dull, unnoticeable metal boxes located around Pleasanton are being transformed into colorful stations dedicated to showcasing the culture and history of the city, thanks to local artists and city leaders.
The effort, called "Project Paint Box," has an ambitious goal: paint all traffic utility boxes in Pleasanton, beautifying the city while also helping deter graffiti and praising the work of area artists.
"Our goal is to eventually paint all 200-plus utility boxes in the city," said Michele Crose, Pleasanton's community services manager. "It may take us several years, considering we're getting three to eight (boxes) each time, but hopefully as we get known for painting utility boxes, we'll get more and more responses every year."
Five boxes have been painted since the program began in 2014, and five more designs have been approved, to be painted later this year.
"We're all bringing something positive and good when we are creating," said Pleasanton artist Tatiana Salvator, whose box is located on Ray and 1st streets. "It's like we're spreading a little seed of love through our art."
Salvator's design, "I Love Pleasanton," incorporates diversity and key character attributes in a street fair-type setting modeled after the Pooch Parade, which takes place in Pleasanton each year.
Tri-Valley artist Chinar Desai, an architectural designer and art teacher, chose a design based on Pleasanton's layout, complete with hills and the Pleasanton arch.
"I tried to incorporate layers of Pleasanton," Desai said of the box at Main and St. John streets out front of Oasis Grille. "From rolling hills to layers of housing and parks and business communities to downtown -- connecting that all together I came up with this concept."
Project Paint Box was developed when members of the Civic Arts Commission suggested a public art program in early 2014. Receiving praise from city staff, the project's Phase 1 began in May 2014 with a call to artists.
The Public Art Selection Subcommittee (PASS) reviewed all applications, making sure each fit criteria listed in the "Call to Artists" packet. Designs then progressed to the Civic Arts Commission and the City Council, both of which reviewed the design and offered insight to the artwork itself.
Once approved, the commission provided feedback and established a contract with each artist to set up a four-week period for the work to be completed.
PASS received 10 proposals for Phase 1 and moved four forward. Upon review, the Civic Arts Commission selected three of the designs. The City Council approved all three, which are now painted on utility boxes.
Artists involved in Phase 1 were paid $500 from the city's public art acquisition fund, which allocates money each year to the purchase of public art. The project's budget was increased for Phase 2, which began in April, with artists being paid $750.
The three Phase 1 pieces chosen were "I Love Pleasanton" by Salvator, "PTown -- 'Me' Town!" by Desai, and "Children at Play" by artist Irma Grant, located at Neal and 1st streets.
Salvator said when she heard about "Project Paint Box," she was excited to apply.
A self-taught artist originally from Brazil, she has been painting most of her life and views it as a form of healing. Prior to painting her utility box on Ray and 1st streets, she painted a smaller box at Harvest Park Middle School and has showcased some of her art in exhibits at the Firehouse Arts Center.
Throughout "I Love Pleasanton" are members of her family -- her brother, sons and nephews are found on multiple sides of the box. Salvator also incorporated people who stopped to talk to her on the street as she was painting.
"I got to know a little bit of their lives," Salvator said. "I took the time to talk to them and heard what they had to say. I love meeting people."
Like Salvator, Grant incorporated people she knew into her design, "Children at Play." Featured on the box are her daughters and neighborhood children, which add to the work's family-feel.
Located near the Meadowlark Dairy and Lions Wayside Park, her box exemplifies the spirit of the area as children joyfully eat ice cream and play together, she said. Formed off her personal experiences in Pleasanton and pictures she has taken, Grant's design did not take long for her to create.
"Once I have the idea in my head, it's just fitting it together," said Grant, a Pleasanton resident originally from the Netherlands.
In addition to her box, she recently finished painting the walls of the new restaurant Casbah in downtown Pleasanton. She also plans to paint a second utility box in Pleasanton later this year.
Grant said she hopes her two painted boxes will bring "color and happiness" to the Pleasanton community and that people who see the colorful boxes can't help but smile.
Two Phase 2 artists have also completed their boxes. Bianca Nandzik's box, "Wildflowers and Native Butterfly," is located on the corner of Del Valle Parkway and Main Street. Amador Valley High student Austin Willis created a box called "Happy Faces" located outside the school.
Nandzik, a native of Germany now living in San Francisco, based her concept off nature found in the Bay Area. Her design has strong connections to the drought, featuring the California poppy and Anise Swallowtail butterfly, the latter of which is a flexible species capable of surviving the drought due to its ability to adapt to different ecotypes.
While painting, Nandzik said she met a man who told her about the Callippe butterfly, an endangered species found in regions within the Bay Area and namesake of Pleasanton's Callippe Preserve Golf Course; she decided to add that butterfly to the box as well.
Nandzik said she hopes her box reminds people of California's history and helps bring beauty to Pleasanton.
Willis' design is not directly linked to Pleasanton but represents a spirit of fun. In graffiti-style art, brightly colored purple and yellow faces surround the box.
"(The committee) liked that it was student-incorporated, a nod to graffiti and had this whimsical fun," Crose said. "It really is a different view of happy faces. (It is) the only one that doesn't really speak to any strong Pleasanton connection, but they were willing to go outside of that because they liked his artwork."
Apart from Nandzik and Willis, five other designs have been approved by the City Council as part of Phase 2, with some locations not yet solidified:
* "A Sunflower Day" by artist Robby Houghton incorporates sunflowers, which he considers gifts of "radiant warmth" and happiness. They symbolize faithfulness, durability, vibrancy and a great day in Pleasanton, which, according to Robby, is "where all the wonderful symbolism does come true."
* "The Nature of Pleasanton" by Mehdia Zaida has a different design on each side of the box, all displaying a unique representation of nature, which is "important to life in Pleasanton." The artwork is underway near Alisal Elementary School.
* "Twilight" by Diana Diaz represents the Pleasanton Ridge. Raised in Pleasanton, she found inspiration in the city's trees and Kottinger Community Park.
* "The Most Pleasant Hills" by Robert Heubel is an abstract landscape painting based on his previous work. The color scheme for the hills is shades of orange/reds or green/blues, to be decided by the committee upon the painting of the box.
* "Hummingbirds" by Grant depicts two hummingbirds eating nectar from red Crocosmia flowers, hardy flowers common in Pleasanton and the San Francisco Bay Area. Her design is based off a photograph her father-in-law took on a visit to Pleasanton.
An eighth design is currently going through the approval process.
Applications for Phase 2 are no longer accepted, but Phase 3 is expected to start in early 2016.
As Phase 2 artists continue to paint utility boxes, the city is accepting donations to sponsor artists' boxes. A $500 donation will go to the artists toward their stipend and to help with costs of supplies. Sponsors can also have their names written on the box. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.