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Collaborative art project brushes new life into utility boxes in Point Loma

Students from Warren-Walker School get ready to paint designs on utility boxes outside the Portuguese Hall in Point Loma.
Middle school students from Warren-Walker School get ready to paint designs of Portuguese cultural symbols on utility boxes outside the United Portuguese SES Hall in Point Loma.
(Courtesy of Jennifer Fleming)

Utility boxes near the United Portuguese SES Hall in Point Loma have a new look, thanks to students from Warren-Walker School, who painted them with a design drawn up by San Diego artist Kristel Boe depicting symbols of cultural significance to the Portuguese community.

About 15 students and parents pitched in for the painting over a weekend in May.

A Warren-Walker middle school student fills in floral designs on a utility box outside the UPSES Hall in Point Loma.
A Warren-Walker middle school student fills in floral designs on a utility box outside the United Portuguese SES Hall in Point Loma.
(Courtesy of Jennifer Fleming)

Sandy Hanshaw, chairwoman of the Point Loma Association’s Public Art Committee, met earlier this year with the executive board of United Portuguese SES (Society of Espirito Santo, or Holy Spirit) about a future mural project. The drab utility boxes on Shafter Street next to the Portuguese Hall were suggested as a potential surface to be painted over.

The Warren-Walker Promise Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the private Warren-Walker School, which has a campus in Point Loma, sent middle school students to help paint the boxes.

Jennifer Fleming, executive director of the Promise Foundation, said the opportunity came at a perfect time.

“It was an opportunity to get our kids out in the community,” Fleming said. “Our kids are required to do so many community service hours per year, and we have so many kids at Warren-Walker that have participated in Festa, and there’s, of course, the legacy of the Portuguese community in Point Loma. It just so happened that we were able to plan this and do this prior to Festa this year. It was wonderful timing.”

Festa do Espirito Santo (Feast of the Holy Spirit) is an annual three-day festival in honor of Queen St. Isabel of Portugal from the early 14th century. It was celebrated in Point Loma June 3-5.

The Point Loma Association, a nonprofit organization that works to beautify the area, helps facilitate painting at least three utility boxes a year. Hanshaw said the decision to include local students in the painting project was almost kismet.

“Normally we pay to have the utility boxes painted by artists,” Hanshaw said. “It came together organically that the kids would paint it [and] the PLA would donate some money to the Warren-Walker foundation.”

Through the project, the PLA donated $400 to the Promise Foundation.

The PLA contacted Boe, owner and creative director at ArtBeat San Diego, which provides art lessons and events countywide. Boe and Hanshaw had coordinated other mural projects in the past, and Boe has painted several green utility boxes before.

Artist Kristel Boe works on one of her creations in front of Cabrillo Elementary School.
Artist Kristel Boe, who drew the designs for the repainted utility boxes near the UPSES Hall in Point Loma, works on another of her creations in front of Cabrillo Elementary School.
(Courtesy of Point Loma Association)

Boe sketched out a “paint by numbers” design for the students to fill in. She said working with the PLA and UPSES was “collaborative.”

“They were looking for something that would be, in their words, ‘festive’ and would tie into the culture,” Boe said. “Because I work with children and I’ve been familiar with that side of things, I ultimately helped them decide on the designs that would be achievable for children to do independently.”

In addition to sketching the designs for the utility boxes, Boe donated some of her own art supplies for the students to use.

Warren-Walker School students paint Kristel Boe’s design of the Barcelos Rooster.
Warren-Walker School students paint Kristel Boe’s design of the Barcelos Rooster.
(Courtesy of Jennifer Fleming)

The paintings on the utility boxes feature folk art-style depictions of Portuguese dancers and the Barcelos Rooster, a
symbol of Portugal based on the legend of a dead rooster that crowed to prove an accused man’s innocence.

Hanshaw put the protective glaze over the designs on the utility boxes herself. They turned out “awesome,” she said.

Utility boxes near the United Portuguese SES Hall in Point Loma sport their artistic new look.
Utility boxes near the United Portuguese SES Hall in Point Loma sport their artistic new look after a collaborative project by the Point Loma Association, UPSES, the Warren-Walker Promise Foundation and San Diego artist Kristel Boe.
(Courtesy of Point Loma Association)

Steve Pedro, a UPSES board member, said the group was happy with the finished product and more so with the timing of its unveiling just ahead of this year’s Festa.

“We had thousands of people attending for Festa weekend, and we got a lot of comments about the murals on the utility boxes,” Pedro said. “It was perfect to have them completed before the festivities.”

Following the completion in May of the Village Lights canopy of stringed lights along Rosecrans Street, the association is focusing on raising funds to sponsor more public murals, Hanshaw said.

“PLA was founded as a beautification group for our area,” Hanshaw said. “The art projects have always been a part of it, but they haven’t always had a big spotlight on them and we haven’t always had the budget for these projects. We’re upping our budget for what we’re calling a Point Loma Mural Project, so we’ll start working with different businesses and groups to be able to paint 10 murals in the next two years or so.”

Possible locations Hanshaw mentioned include a wall behind the Good Point gas station at the intersection of Canon and Rosecrans streets, Cabrillo Elementary School and a wall at the Portuguese Hall.

“Sandy has spoken with us, we’ve had a couple of meetings onsite regarding what we would envision painting on the wall,” Pedro said. “We’re still in the talks about that wall and how much it’s going to cost to have a preferred mural painter do this for us.”

The design would need to be approved by the UPSES board before it could be displayed.


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