Council rejects idea of decorating city’s utility boxes

May 22, 2014

By Ari Cetron

New: May 22, 10:14 a.m.

City residents seem unlikely to see historical photos wrapped around their utility boxes anytime soon.
Ann Schaefer, chairwoman of the Sammamish Arts Commission. came to the City Council May 13 to give an update on the commission’s work.
She focused on the commission’s idea to decorate utility boxes with historic photos of things that happened near the box. Schaefer noted other cities have found ways to dress up the otherwise drab boxes scattered around their cities.
The photos would be affixed to the boxes, not simply painted on, and would cost about $1,500 per box. She said she understood they would last 7-8 years.
The council was unequivocally opposed to the idea, with each council members opposing it for different reasons.
Some raised the specter of the Eastlake Tree Socks, when a local artist wrapped a handful of dead tree trunks near Eastlake High School in colorful yarn. The results were polarizing, with people in the community either loving or hating the year-long installation.
Councilwoman Kathleen Huckabay said she would rather see the Arts Commission, which has a $20,000 annual budget, spend its money in other ways, such as theater programs.
Mayor Tom Vance said the idea of putting up historical photos seemed outside the purview of the Arts Commission, and was more in keeping with something the city’s heritage society would do.
“I’m looking for the art in it,” he said.
He also noted that cities where the photos have been successful are far more urban, where the utility boxes sit among box-shaped buildings on grids of streets.
“We’re a suburban city,” he said.
Councilwoman Nancy Whitten echoed those comments.
“The beauty of our city is its nature,” she said.
Whitten also noted that installing something permanent seems outside the scope of the Arts Commission.
Most of the commission’s work involves things like dramatic readings, musical performances or installing temporary art displays in City Hall.
Something of a more permanent nature should involve some public input, Whitten said.

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