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Fight against graffiti leads to community artwork on utility boxes

Posted on 28 January 2019 by calvin

A combination of community efforts has provided artwork to otherwise drab utility boxes and prevented unwanted graffiti in the neighborhoods of Hale-Page-Diamond Lake (HPDL).

Margaret Craig, who was a long-term board member of the HPDL Neighborhood Association and has since been a part of the Safety Engagement Committee, said that graffiti on the utility boxes has been a problem. The HPDL Neighborhood Association, working with the 3rd Precinct in the area, decided to be pro-active.

“I have worked with community crime issues since 2004, and after my board term was up I stayed with the Safety Engagement Committee, serving as a liaison between the neighborhood and the 3rd Precinct,” Craig said. “We talked about the utility boxes and pre-empting the graffiti on them.”

The decision was made to put a wrap of artwork around the utility boxes. If any boxes were still vandalized by graffiti, it could easily be removed from the wraps.

“The HPDL Association contacted us to create artwork for the utility boxes,” said Katy Tharaldson, K-4 art teacher at Hale School, 5330 13th Ave. S. ‘I went to a meeting where the project was discussed.”

Photo right: A picture by Mark Stonich of a mother owl and baby graces a local utility box. (Photo by Jan Willms)

According to Tharaldson, the HPDL Neighborhood Association received a grant to purchase art supplies for the students. “The first year, the 4th graders made murals about the seasons,” she said. “This was about three years ago.” Then all grades created pictures of bunnies that were placed by the sculpture of the rabbit in Nokomis Park. Later, the students made artwork with insects and bugs as their theme.

Craig photographed all the students’ artwork and sent the photos off to Sign Mind, the company that made and installed the wrappers.

“I measured the boxes and found the artwork,” Craig said. “Sign Mind takes the photos of the artwork and wraps the boxes.”

Craig said she was able to get beautiful art from the school kids. But there are a lot of utility boxes in the HPDL neighborhood that needed wrapping, so the Association reached out to the community searching for photos.

Photo right: Stephanie Fox contributed a photograph of a rabbit sculpture. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Stephanie Fox, who is a freelance writer and photographer, said she saw a posting on the Nextdoor social media site.

“I was out on my deck one day, and my bulldog Quigley gave me a cute face. I grabbed my camera and shot his photo. Then I went along the Parkway and took a picture of the rabbit, a neighborhood icon.” These two photos now cover utility boxes at Minnehaha Pkwy. and Cedar and at Edgewater and Cedar.

Mark Stonich lives in the area, and his wife is a part of the HPDL Neighborhood Association. So, he learned about the project and submitted some photos.

Stonich, who calls himself a bicyclist with a camera, has his photos of an egret and of a mother and baby owl covering utility boxes at East Nokomis Pkwy. and Cedar and at West Lake Nokomis Pkwy. and Cedar.

Stonich marveled at all the opportunities there are to shoot urban wildlife in the Twin Cities. He cited a family of owls in a tree near Lake Harriet, so popular with photographers the city put up barricades around the tree. He has also come across eagles, wood ducks, and possums and shot one of his favorite photos, a turtle on a log. He was also able to shoot an eagle grabbing a fish in its mouth.

Photo right: Mark Stonich also provided this image of an egret. (Photo by Jan Willms)

“In the city, the critters have figured out that people with guns just shoot each other, and not the animals,” he mused. So it is fairly easy to get near wildlife with a camera.

“My wife spots them, and I shoot their pictures,” he said. “Although she has started shooting her own photos now.”

Stonich, who retired 19 years ago, has a business providing antique bicycle parts and making alternative sizes of bicycle cranks, which brings him customers from all over the world.

The combination of a community organization, local photographers and young art students has proven an effective way of beautifying the neighborhood and preventing vandalism.

According to art teacher Tharaldson, the project has brought children’s voices out into the community. She praised the HPDL Neighborhood Association for its efforts.

“It is important to give children an opportunity to share their art with community members. And it has been a lot of fun,” she said.

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