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A Beautiful Vision

Watsonville's Public Art Commission is making progress on its goal to add art to the city, especially downtown.

A Beautiful Vision

Ann Cavanaugh loves art, and she loves Watsonville.

The Watsonville marriage and family psychotherapist—she studied psychology, not art in college—is one of five members of the Public Art Committee, a new group tasked with beautifying the city.

One of the committee's first projects is taking shape now: commissioning local artists to paint murals on the sides of five unappealing utility boxes in the downtown area.

“It’s a marvelous idea, because these things are such an eyesore, and these are just such a perfect canvas," Cavanaugh said. 

Utility boxes, when left with the typical institutional-gray or tan paint, tend to become magnets for graffiti and detract from an otherwise pleasing environment, according to Laurie Blackburn, an administrative analyst in the city's Redevelopment and Housing Department who staffs the Public Art Committee.

While there are at least 50 utility boxes throughout the city, transformation of the boxes will occur in phases as funding becomes available.

Painting the boxes hopefully will reduce graffiti and eliminate blight.

"This has been done in other cities before," Blackburn said. "Utility boxes are pretty ugly, and they're in pretty prominent places."

So the committee is looking to paint five of them right now, and is accepting artist applications. Some have already offered to help, Blackburn said.

The committee formed in March 2010 and set about creating a master plan for public arts in Watsonville. In addition to the utility box project, the committee is working on arranging exhibits in the Civic Plaza and organizing an arts festival in the future.

"They're really excited about introducing public art into the community," Blackburn said of committee members.

Cavanaugh believes art should be in the public domain and should be for everyone, “not sequestered in museums."

"There needs to be more free access so people can come to the idea that creativity is something that we all hold," said Cavanaugh, who enjoys clay building, loves to paint and do collage work, would like to do more metal work and just took a workshop in enameling, in addition to renovating her home.

“I’ve always been interested in art and community building,” Cavanaugh said.

Funding is, of course, an issue for the Public Art Committee.

“We don’t have a pot of money we can just go to, and when you don’t have the money, it sort of comes out of your time and effort, more volunteer, more scrambling in the community to find business that want to partner with you," Cavanaugh said.

But artists selected to paint the first five utility boxes will receive a stipend as well as money to cover materials costs.

Also, a public works grant is funding another Public Art Committee project: a wetlands mural on the retaining wall being built on South Green Valley Road.

The 220-foot-long mural of birds, plants, animals and water will be done by Art Thomae, who has painted other murals in the city.

Cavanaugh said she's excited and pleased to see the committee's visions manifested so quickly.

“I’m invested in the city looking and being the kind of city I want to be associated with," she said.

All proposals, for this first phase, must be received by 5 p.m. Sept. 29 to be considered. Local Watsonville artists are encouraged to apply; however, any artist in the tri-county area may apply.

For more information about this project or to obtain submittal details, go to the city’s website or call the city of Watsonville Redevelopment and Housing Department office at 831-768-3080.

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