At the Castro Valley Fall Festival last weekend, Castro Valley Matters decided to do a coloring contest, asking people who stopped by the booth to draw their vision of what CV’s utilitarian (at best) and graffiti-covered (at worst) utility boxes could look like instead.
To spur their imagination, we posted photos of other towns’ artistically decorated utility boxes. So many surrounding communities (Hayward, Walnut Creek, and Berkeley, to name a few) have invested a bit of time, money and creativity into beautifying the boxes on their most heavily traveled streets.
Why should we care? Well, we should care because improving our surroundings – and public art is really just one way of doing that – demonstrates that we care about how our community feels when people come here. And it says to residents, “Yes, we can be creative here and foster a sense of beauty and playfulness rather than settle for less. We will define our own space rather than accept what’s always been.”
The kids who did stop to draw their ideas were touchingly interested and engaged. We saw drawings of Pikachu, the Tardis from Dr. Who, a lovely Asian-inspired fish drawing, an amazing wolf, and so many more. Those participating ranged from children who could barely make a fist to hold a marker on up to young adults who could suddenly envision Castro Valley as a better-looking, more inviting place.
Decorating a few utility boxes is just a beginning. It’s such a small thing that you’d be tempted to dismiss its significance. Ideally, we would see murals, sculptures, perhaps a rotating installation of objects such as the huge, decorated sculptural hearts installed on San Francisco sidewalks for a time many years ago. We care about art because buildings and streets only go so far toward creating and defining a space. Landscaping and “street furniture” – aesthetically pleasing benches, street lamps, even garbage cans – are great, but there’s room for the freshness and conviviality that public art suggests.
Public art is worth thinking about, caring about, and doing something about. Our hope was to begin the conversation during the festival. What do you think of the aesthetics around Castro Valley? Do you have an idea for public art? How could we get community members interested and involved? Please share your thoughts.