Lifeless traffic signal boxes given shot of adrenaline

The box at the northwest corner of Seventh and Monterey streets is sponsored by Franco's Imports.

The next wave of eye-catching public artwork depicting celebrated Gilroy landscapes, culture, wildlife and American pride will color the Garlic Capital one brushstroke at a time at an intersection near you by mid-April or May.

It’s been nine months since the city launched a successful pilot program aimed at beautifying an army of otherwise lifeless traffic signal boxes with custom, Gilroy-themed murals that enliven street corners and discourage tagging.

If the proposed themes and locations gets a thumbs up from the city’s Arts and Culture Commission during their meeting Tuesday, followed by approval from City Council at a later date, nine traffic signal boxes will join the existing four that received colorful makeovers back in June 2011.

“We’re really excited about our second phase of the traffic mural program,” said Rachel Munoz, community service officer for the Gilroy Police Department. “I would say we’re on second base.”

The boxes house electronic equipment called signal controllers, which regulate the timing of different signal phases, according to David Stubchaer, senior civil engineer for the City of Gilroy.

A number of those involved with pushing the endeavor – from the dozen donors who shelled out the $600 to $800 donation per box, to the artists who were handpicked for the task, to staff and volunteers with the Gilroy Police Department – say they’re thrilled with seeing the effort come closer to fruition.

Among them is Nick Franco, whose family-owned business, Franco’s Imports on Old Gilroy Street, sponsored a “farmland spice of life” themed box at the northwest corner of Seventh and Monterey streets downtown. Having experienced the drag of tagging firsthand – Franco’s has been vandalized in the past – Nick said his family was on board with the mural movement and its two-pronged aim at city beautification and graffiti determent. Nick, like many others backing the project, hopes that taggers will be disinclined to spoil a fellow artist’s opus.

“We’ve been in business for 26 years now, and we figured why not help out the community?” he said. (The murals) look nice, and they really stand out. It’s a plus.”

In the last several months, 11 sponsors who signed on with the project selected from a pool of artists who responded with submitted ideas. Three artists are currently in the pipeline to give the boxes fantastic facelifts, including Kathy Ladd; a retired teacher from Antonio Del Buono Elementary School; Sheryl Cathers, owner of Dabble Art Center downtown; and local artist JoAnne Perez Robinson – who took first place in the 2011 and 2006 Gilroy Garlic Festival Poster Contest and nabbed a close second place in 2008 and 2010.

Robinson, who was picked by two sponsors, will be painting the “farmland spice of life theme” (a homage to all of Gilroy’s earthy pickings, i.e. garlic, sunflowers, peppers) in front of the Gilroy Interim Center for the Arts on the corner of Monterey and Seventh streets.

She’ll also conjure a sweeping vista on a box located at the southwest corner of Welburn Avenue and Santa Teresa Boulevard. Sponsored by the philanthropic Gilroy Foundation, the mural will pay homage to the distinct terrestrial features of east and west Gilroy. Robinson said one-half of the box will portray majestic oaks and rolling golden hills; the other half will give tribute to the beloved natural gem that is the forested Mount Madonna atop Hecker Pass Road.

“I hope I didn’t bite off more than I can chew,” she joked.

If you’ve meandered along the levy, artist Sheryl Cathers’ resume can be seen sprawling under the Luchessa Avenue Bridge. She painted the “Our Town Through the Years” mural in 2007 and was previously commissioned to paint a mural where the Uvas Trail crosses under the Santa Teresa Bridge. She’s amped to take her brush to city property once again.

“I’m always excited to do things that are community-based,” she said. “And I think it’s important to use local artists.”

Youth at Christopher High School are also getting in on the artistic action with a fabulous, garlicky interpretation of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

CHS art teacher Gayle Vineyard and her Advanced Studio Art Class students dreamed up a whimsical take on the Dutch post-impressionist’s 1889 masterpiece. Expect something similar to the original, but with a dash of starry cloves.

“It’s subtle, but it’s attractive,” said Karen Christopher, who along with her husband and garlic mogul Don Christopher sponsored the “Van Gogh Garlic Night” box at the northeast corner of Day Road and Cougar Lane. “Wherever you can add art, I think it’s a good idea,” Karen added.

Santa Cruz artist Bruce Harman, whom the city hired last year using funds remaining in the graffiti paint contractor account for 2011, will mentor Cathers, Perez and Ladd in the painting process.

Harman, a freelance artist of 27 years who has painted several traffic signal boxes in Capitola and Santa Cruz, spearheaded last year’s pilot program.

He’s the talent behind those garlic bulb hot air balloons drifting in a blue sky, rolling vineyards, local flora and scenes from the Gilroy Gardens theme park on the boxes at Monterey and Farrell, Monterey and Third, Monterey and 10th, and Princevalle and 10th streets. Munoz said these boxes were at one point the most frequently tagged in Gilroy.

Since receiving its makeover, the painted traffic signal box on the corner of Farrell and Monterey streets has been marked up on several occasions. A special protective coating, however, allows Gilroy paint contractor Tim Collins to remove the graffiti and restore the artwork.

Following the nine boxes slated for painting this spring, a third phase adopting another six to eight more painted boxes in 2013 will hopefully ensue.

“It’s a really cool opportunity to have your artwork out on the traffic box for everyone to see,” said Robinson. “I’m really excited about it. I think it’s going to be cool.”

Proposed themes, locations and sponsors
– “Mt. Madonna/Hecker Pass,” Welburn Avenue and Santa Teresa Boulevard, The Gilroy Foundation
– “Farmland spice of life,” Monterey and Seventh streets, Franco’s Imports
– “Patriotism/Americanism,” Third Street and Wren Avenue, The Gilroy Exchange Club
– “Van Gogh garlic night,” Day Road and Cougar Lane, Don and Karen Christopher
– “Ecology/preservation,” Chestnut and 10th streets, Gilroy Recology South Valley
– “Child at garlic box,” Monterey and Fifth streets, Downtown Business Association
– “Wildlife/red barn,” Christmas Hill Levy, Gilroy Gang Task Force/Wipe Out Watch Committee
– “Harvest/agriculture,” Camino Arroyo and Gilman Avenue, South County Housing, Gilroy Veterinary Hospital, Gilroy Rotary
– “Fallen heroes,” Sixth and Monterey streets, Veterans of Foreign Wars

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