San Ramon's Utility Box Public Art Project
Bay Area artists give colorful makeovers to utility boxes along Crow Canyon Road.
Artist Suzanne Gayle uses a rainbow of colors to paint a utility box at the corner of Crow Canyon Road and Iron Horse Trail.
Photo by Cali Godley
Bland, gray, and bulky—city utility boxes are hardly the most appealing sight. But in San Ramon, five of these sidewalk fixtures on Crow Canyon Road have been transformed into works of art with a little paint, a lot of elbow grease, and the vision of artists from across the Bay Area.
These creators—selected from a pool of 30 applicants by the San Ramon Arts Advisory Committee—drew inspiration from the city’s chosen theme of celebrating the arts, diversity, and multiculturalism in San Ramon.
“Public art is an expression of a community’s unity and inclusion. It brings people together,” says San Ramon Arts Foundation President William Doerlich. “The diversity of the art expressed in the Utility Box Project mirrors the beautiful diversity that San Ramon will continue to embrace.”
For Suzanne Gayle, a muralist from Hayward, that manifested as an ode to the power of music as a unifying force. “Music is the universal language—even more than art,” she says. “[My utility box] is a collage of instruments and music symbols. I always use color, but the multitude of colors [in this case] represents diversity.”
Dance inspired the utility box designed by Jeanette Braucher-Wolfe, a makeup artist and muralist from Brentwood. “I have several forms of dance represented: hip-hop, salsa, tango, jazz, ballet, belly dancing, and Bollywood,” she says. “The images connect, so they go around the box and are not limited to one side, to show that life—like dance—flows.”
San Francisco painter Sophia Lee chose not to focus on one particular expression of creativity. “I love the different forms of visual and performance arts: I grew up wanting to be a dancer; I enjoy listening to music,” she says. “I’m excited that I was able to combine all these. My art has a lot of swirling patterns; [they represent] the air and sound of movement, connecting us all in music and dance.”
All the artists commuted to San Ramon to transform their utility boxes—laboring for hours, multiple days at a time to complete their visions by the end of August. And the process involved more than just painting. The utility boxes had to be cleaned and prepped, all while the summer sun beat down from above.
Still, the painters didn’t let that deter them. “People would honk or call out support as they passed by throughout the day,” Lee says. “[The work] is tough but rewarding.”