Dana Oland: Boise 'Art in Traffic' show drives public art forward

Traffic Box project translates media and launches careers.

doland@idahostatesman.comDecember 6, 2013 

  • Art in Traffic

    Dec. 6-Jan. 31, Visual Arts Collective, 3638 Osage St., Garden City. Opening reception: 7-9 p.m. Dec. 6. Free.

Looking at a one of Belinda Isley's three-dimensional assemblages - boxes filled with bits of ephemera such as post cards, game pieces, tiny charms and other found objects - it's hard to imagine them in any other format. Yet, if you drive by Fork restaurant on the corner of 8th and Idaho streets, you'll see Isley's Traffic Box mural, its 3D image translated to 2D.

The vinyl-wrap process, done by Trademark Signs in Boise, preserves the suggestion of dimension, so Isley's quirky 19th-century, 3D characters in "Change is Good" seem to pop off the flat surface.

"I was so happy to see it turn out so well," Isley says.

In other cities that have traffic box art programs, artists paint directly on the boxes. That limits the scope of media and allows the work to be vulnerable to the elements.

The vinyl-wrap process used in Boise captures the work from high-resolution images. The reproduction is so good that mediums such as mosaic, quilts, collage and assemblage make it on the boxes. And it turns out the artwork is more durable. Initially they were viewed as temporary public art works, but the vinyl has proven to be lasting.

You can check out the scope of the traffic box pieces, including Isley's assemblage and artwork from 49 of the 65 artists who created a traffic box mural, in an exhibition at Visual Arts Collective in Garden City.

Why Garden City? VaC's gallery space is large enough to hold the 51 pieces in the show, and targeting a hip place that draws a younger crowd will bring more emerging artists into the mix, says Karen Bubb, Boise city's public arts manager.

All together the box art is a unique body of work created collectively by the area's artists.

"This program reflects the diversity of the arts community that makes the cultural life of Boise cool," Bubb says.

About two-thirds of the pieces on display in "Art in Traffic" will be the original artwork created for the boxes. The rest will be a similar piece to the box.

"It will be cool to see them all in one place," says Downtown Boise Association Director Karen Sander, who brought the idea to Boise in 2009 as a way to battle graffiti.

The Traffic Box Program transforms the ubiquitous gray metal boxes found at nearly every intersection into a startling array of artwork.

It started with just five boxes and now has grown to nearly 50.

"It's gone beyond my wildest dreams," Sander says. "I just love that it brings art to the streets in a new way."

Each box costs $2,469 to make, with the artist getting $1,000. The funding comes from Boise City and Capital City Development Corp. in partnership with the Downtown Boise Association and Ada County Highway District, which owns and maintains the boxes.

Deterring graffiti may have been the initial inspiration for the project, but the actual benefits have gone far beyond that because of its ability invite a wider swath of artists to gain experience in creating public art.

"It's been huge," Bubb says. "It's become the most successful entry point for emerging artists who want to do more public art."

Several of the artists, including Isley, have gone on to do more public-art commissions.

She was a finalist for the latest mural project at the Boise Airport, which was won by Ann Peterson Klahr, another traffic box alumna. (Though she didn't win, the Department of Arts and History commissioned Isley to create her piece that now hangs in the main concourse.)

Isley also won traffic box commissions in Nampa and Ketchum - two other Idaho cities that are replicating the project.

Other traffic artists Marianne Konvalinka, Mike Landa, Melissa Chambers, Leslie Dixon, Pat Kilby, Amy Lundstrum, Rachel Teannalach and Anna Webb have taken it to the next level, becoming more competitive in the public-art arena.

"The traffic box was definitely my gateway drug," says Webb, who also is a reporter for the Statesman. A mosaic artist, she is completing her fourth public-art project, a collaborative mosaic mural at the Crestline Traffic Circle in front of the Boise Depot.

"It (public art) was something I wanted to do and with the traffic box I was making the statement that I want to be a public artist," she says. "I just think mosaic lends itself so beautifully to being in public spaces. It was the natural road for me to go down."

Webb also created the mosaic wall in front of the Biomark Building and another mosaic traffic box at 9th and River streets.

Look for more on the way with a new call-to-artists that went out last week.

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