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Utility box = art canvas?


Of the Keizertimes

Utility boxes aren’t usually known for their design.

Mayor Lore Christopher wants to change that in Keizer.

The outgoing mayor serves as chair of the new Keizer Arts Commission and has been putting together a plan for students to paint artwork on utility boxes along River Road.

For the time being, Christopher is referring to the project as the Student Utility Box Project, though she emphasized at a recent Arts Commission meeting she is open to a more creative name. Christopher is hoping to work with Erik Jespersen, the new McNary High School principal, on setting up the project.

“I want to have McNary students adopt a utility box,” Christopher said. “I want to introduce the idea to students next September. If PGE (Portland General Electric) comes along, all the other utilities will come online as well.”

As envisioned by Christopher, interested students would choose a utility box from a list, check out paint supply kits put together by Arts Commission member Jill Hagen and apply their art to a utility box under the mentoring eye of an Arts Commission member.

“We would furnish the paint,” the mayor said. “We would have contracts for September. I want the budget committee to put money in for supplies. I might just say give us $1,000. I would be asking any McNary High School art student. We would need to have our prospectus lined up. I will take pictures of the utility boxes. We’ll number them and have the contracts all in place.”

Christopher went over how she sees the process working.

“A student says I want box No. 37 and here’s what I’m going to paint,” she said. “They submit a design, we approve the design, they tell us what they need paint wise and we check it out to them. We will establish a paint box, if you will. They say box No. 37 and we hand them the box. Someone would oversee it. You work with one student on one utility box until it is done. I think that’s a pretty reasonable task. Once they adopt a box, they will have 30 to 90 days to get it done.”

Arts Commission vice chair Rick Day liked the idea and noted commission members would act as mentors to the students.

Christopher noted she wasn’t sure when the first students would be wanting to get going.

“We may have a kid who wants to get on it right away,” she said. “Most likely it would be in May or June (2016) when school is getting out.”

Jill Hagen suggested getting students lined up sooner rather than later.

“If we get the prospectus over to the school now, there might be someone in September who is ready to go,” Hagen said.

Christopher is hoping to get an MHS arts teacher on the commission shortly, with the idea of that helping to develop the program.

“We wanted to start with something expressly done by students,” she said. “I think it would be good to say the students own it. The community will embrace it because it’s student art. It would be a really good thing for students, but I’m not opposed if there is not enough interest (from them) or if other people want to do it.”

Hagen suggested she could present the idea to art students at Chemeketa Community College, an idea met with favor.

Christopher suggested Hagen and Kathy Haney working together on the program, with Hagen specifying what should go in the paint boxes given to the students and Haney figuring out the finer details of the program. Hagen suggested she could talk with Sherwin-Williams about getting paint.

Hagen’s excitement about the project was pretty obvious.

“I want to do one of the boxes,” she exclaimed.

That led to a joking rebuke from Christopher.

“Will you guys give the kids a chance?” the mayor said with a laugh. “It’s going to be a fun project.”

Christopher noted she will go up and down River Road coming up with an inventory of the utility boxes, which counted 38 at one point several years ago.

“You write the program, I’ll inventory the utility boxes,” Christopher said. “I’ll walk it and map it. The boxes are in different sizes.”