This spring, two existing utility boxes-turned-public-art will be joined by seven more, solicited by the Warren Arts & Culture Commission, which was formed in 2020 by Bob Rulli, director of the Office of Planning & Community Development for the Town of Warren. “I have always believed that arts and culture are economic development tools that can help define the character of a community,” says Rulli. “Warren has a rich and deep base of artists and several groups that support the Town’s historic culture.”
Drawing onlookers from across the state and adding a glimmer of art in unexpected places, the first two painted utility boxes appeared in 2019 and were commissioned by the Town of Warren and The Avenue Concept as part of ongoing streetscaping improvement efforts on Water Street. Birds of Warren by William Schaff depicts a watchful heron and a chickadee in flight, while Adam Tracy’s Warren’s Waterfront is a splash of yellow with nautical imagery.
Rulli used October’s Warren Walkabout, a series of Sunday events to encourage locals to shop small and explore the waterfront, and grant funding that came in from the Take it Outside initiative to get the ball rolling on new utility box designs, asking artists to go for a stroll and identify boxes that had potential for beautifying. He guessed they would do another three. “I never expected that we would get 38 separate artists to submit ideas and concepts,” says Rulli. “Submissions represented the young and old, Warren-based artists, area artists, even artists from outside the region. It was amazing and they were all so very, very good, so creative and thoughtful. There was no theme suggested in the open call – I wanted people to come to Warren, explore our downtown and be creative.”
With Uriah Donnelly, Vice-Chair of the WACC and executive director of The Collaborative, involved every step of the way, TAC was once again brought in to lead the process of selecting artists and designs to best fit the unconventional canvas. “It was actually a long, but thoughtful process with multiple stages all headed by the wonderful folks over at The Avenue Concept,” explains Donnelly. TAC helped the selection committee with practical considerations, like whether or not a design could translate to the four sides of a 3D box, and then through a democratic process, the top ten were chosen. This was whittled down to the final seven.
“There were no parameters set in the call for submissions as far as themes,” says Donnelly, “but it seems most of the artists picked up on some common ones. So there’s plenty of marine life and historical connection to the area.” The seven artists are Heather Annis, Jess Brown, Holly Emidy, Kristin DiVona, Jacob Ginga, Adam Kelley, and Connor Robinson – each brings a unique design that Rulli looks forward to revealing come spring, when the 3D murals will come to life around Warren’s historic downtown area. This summer, Rulli also anticipates another group effort with TAC and The Collaborative to sponsor a young artists program that will give students the chance to design and paint their own box.
TAC Executive Director Yarrow Thorne is equally excited about the reveal: “The incredible diversity of styles among the artists chosen for the second phase of this electrical box project will enliven the streetscape, and this program provides important opportunities to showcase local talent.” Rather than a utilitarian eyesore, the next time you spot an electrical box in Warren, see it as a placeholder for future art, as Rulli is set on painting the town with a future wave of public art boxes in the fall, too. Stay tuned on The Avenue Concept’s Facebook page for project updates.