Tick tock, tick tock, last call for campus artists

Ever dreamed of having your artwork seen by thousands of people every day? Well, now’s your chance. But the deadline for the novel campus street-art competition is fast approaching.

UC Berkeley is funding the design and installation of sustainability-themed mini-murals to transform a series of drab, gray utility boxes into artful conversation-starters.

Campus utility box

UC Berkeley is sponsoring a series of sustainability-themed mini-murals to transform drab utility boxes around campus. (Roibín Ó hÉochaidh photo)

The competition is part of the Streets Alive 60-Boxes project. The civic-art collaboration between local nonprofit group Earth Island Institute and the city of Berkeley aims to invigorate the downtown area by placing artwork on up to 60 utility boxes.

“The campus is committed to making community spaces as attractive as possible and this project offers us a chance to do just that while adding some whimsy to our daily lives through street art,” says Jennifer McDougall, principal planner at UC Berkeley Physical and Environmental Planning.

Design concepts and portfolio samples for the campus component of the Streets Alive competition, which is open to faculty, students, staff and alumni, are due by Nov. 7.

Selected artists will receive a $300 stipend. Winning designs, which will be printed on a polymer-coated material and professionally installed on one of seven identified utility boxes, will remain in place for at least three years.

“With all the academics and the serious research that goes on at Berkeley, it’s easy to forget that we also have a lot of really creative and artistic people on campus,” McDougall says.

Dotted around downtown Berkeley, the plain, gray metal boxes — mostly nondescript, but frequently downright dreary — are the property of PG&E or the city of Berkeley.

Earth Island Institute will unveil the first three boxes Oct. 25., including one at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street co-sponsored by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and his spouse, state Sen. Loni Hancock.

Utility box art, Emeryville.

Head-scratching designs by Seyed Alavi adorn utility boxes throughout nearby Emeryville. (Courtesy city of Emeryville)

Berkeley is not the first city to transform its utility boxes. Several years ago, nearby Emeryville commissioned Oakland-based artist Seyed Alavi to transform 25 utility boxes throughout the city into head-scratching works of art.

In 2009, the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts named the Sign of the Times project, which features stylized black figures on a yellow background, as one of the 40 best public-art projects in the United States.

Streets Alive proposal guidelines call for submissions to reflect UC Berkeley’s environmental activism and vision of sustainability.

Potential sustainability themes include energy efficiency and renewable energy; water conservation; waste reduction; climate action; green buildings; transportation; local, fair-trade, organic food; habitat restoration; and cutting-edge research that improves the environment.

“Sustainability is an area where UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley have been leaders, and I think this public-art project has the potential to be an incredibly positive signpost that embodies and celebrates what we can accomplish together,” McDougall says.

McDougall teamed up with Kira Stoll, sustainability specialist in UC Berkeley’s Office of Sustainability, to shepherd the campus competition to completion. The pair identified utility boxes at several high-traffic locations on the outskirts of campus, including boxes at Oxford Street and University Avenue; Oxford and Berkeley Way; and University and Shattuck Square.

A $20,000 grant from the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund, which supports community projects that enhance the quality of life in Berkeley and encourage campus-community engagement, will fund the seven utility-box installations. The grant also includes funding for a student intern to help implement the street-art project.