Crews recently installed eight new original artworks as part of the City of Kent’s traffic signal control box art project.
A graceful heron rises in flight over a spectacular orange sunset at the intersection of SE 256th Street and 132nd Avenue Southeast. A flock of wacky birds has taken up residence on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Meeker Street. Delicate flowers provide a stark contrast to the busy intersection of Central Avenue North and East James Street.
What began in 2017 as a partnership between several sity departments to deter graffiti and beautify unsightly boxes that control traffic signals, has resulted in 21 artworks located throughout the community.
The project was first suggested by Kent Police Department staff to prevent graffiti on traffic signal controller boxes, which frequently serve as blank canvases for taggers. The Public Works Department assists with selecting frequently vandalized boxes and preparing them for the application of artwork, and the Kent Arts Commission funds and spearheads the project.
“We see it as an opportunity to contribute artwork to highly visible streetscapes,” said Dan Cox, chair of the Arts Commission, in a city news release.
Each year, the Arts Commission extends the opportunity to design a box to professional and emerging artists residing in Washington state. The artists can work in any medium, so long as the final artwork can be translated and digitally reproduced on a two-dimensional vinyl wrap. More than 100 applications have been received, and 18 artists have been selected and commissioned to design artwork for different box locations. The most recent batch of eight artworks include:
• Jill Erickson’s “Heron Rising” soars over a Lake Meridian sunset at SE 256th St. and 132nd Ave. SE.
• Whimsical silhouettes of animals and people appear on Melissa Koch’s box, “Pursuit of Happiness,” at Pacific Highway South and S. 252nd St.
• Cam Kristenson’s “Crazy Birds on Parade” greet travelers with their colorful, wacky style on the corner of Fourth Ave. and Meeker St.
• Vikram Madan’s “Perplexed Penguins” peer out from a striking color-block background at SE 272nd St. (Kent-Kangley Rd.) and 152nd Ave. SE. The curious little birds appear holding a variety of fanciful objects, from hearts and butterflies to lollipops and a tiny accordion.
• The lush, green wetland images that appear on boxes at the Interurban Trail and Smith Street are photographs by artist Ken Winnick.
• Erica Peto’s “Beauty and the Beast” sets an inspiring and historical scene at the intersection of Fourth Ave. and James St. Peto’s artwork features Japanese Koi, a Red-Crowed Crane, produce, foliage, and a guard tower – all to represent and honor Japanese Americans living and farming in the Kent Valley in the early 1900s, until forced into internment camps during WWII.
• The delicate lines and soft colors of Joy Hagen’s “Flora” provide a calming counterpoint to the busy intersection of Central Ave. N. and James St.
• Dinah Rau’s “Stained Glass Forest” brings abstract, colorful trees to Pacific Highway South and S. 272nd St.
The head-turning installations transform their locations into outdoor galleries, giving drivers something bright and interesting to look at when they’re stuck in traffic and making passersby smile. Each artist brought a distinct style to their box, giving the project a range of themes and styles.
Over the course of three years, the art-wrapped boxes seem to be doing their job as graffiti deterrents as well, with decreased incidents of tagging, which are easily cleaned off the vinyl surfaces.
Response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive, with enthusiastic feedback across all ages and various segments of Kent’s population. Plans are in the works to continue the project in 2021.