Bright, colorful and unique: Artists to paint ‘gorgeous’ utility boxes in West Long Beach

A popular corridor in West Long Beach is getting bursts of color with 10 painted utility boxes mostly along Santa Fe Avenue between Wardlow Road and Pacific Coast Highway as part of a project to help beautify the area.

Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) partnered with Long Beach city officials to gather local artists to paint the boxes. The criteria was that the art should be bright, colorful, inspiring, unique, and not follow a particular theme.

BKBIA Executive Director Blair Cohn said this public art project has taken at least two years to bloom. Due to COVID-19 shutdowns, the project stayed dormant, until now. At least three boxes have been completed over the past week.

“Gorgeous” and “beautiful” are the words Cohn uses to describe the paintings artists are creating.

“Part of the reason why we hand-picked these artists is because of the level of skill and what they could bring to the corridor,” Cohn said.

One example is the work of Janelle Carbajal, 33, who completed an image on 21st Street and Santa Fe Avenue of a young Latina braiding the hair of different versions of herself. The piece represents the roles Latinas play in their lives through what the girl wears: a student uniform for academia, a party dress for playfulness, a soccer jersey for sports and camaraderie and a Folklorico dress for the responsibility of keeping culture alive.

Carbajal said it was cool to see children circle around her artwork to see all the braiding connect. The braiding and the girl’s calm expression in her artwork, she said, is also meant to be a reminder for children to practice self-care.

“Take time to be a child and have fun,” Carbajal said.

A painting illustrating girls pursuing their dreams on a utility box by LaJon Miller at Santa Fe Avenue and 23rd Street in West Long Beach on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

Here is a list of the participating artists, where you can find their painted utility boxes and the status of their work as of Thursday:

  • Janelle Carbajal, 21st Street and Santa Fe Avenue, (complete)
  • LaJon Miller, 23rd Street and Santa Fe Avenue, (complete)
  • Joon the Goon, Wardlow Road and Santa Fe Avenue, (complete)
  • Steve Fawley, Willow Street and Santa Fe Avenue, (in progress)
  • Meghan Broterenbrood, 1915 W. Willow (Willow Street and Regway Avenue), (in progress)
  • Tiffany Le, Hill Street and Santa Fe Avenue, (in progress)
  • Ms Yellow, Burnett Street and Santa Fe Avenue, (starting soon)
  • Asia Morris, Spring Street and Santa Fe Avenue, (starting soon)

Two more artists are in the works of joining this list and will be assigned to paint the remaining utility boxes, according to project organizers.

This project, Cohn said, comes as the push for storefront improvements led by the Long Beach Economic Partnership has taken off this year.

“This project has been a long time in the making,” said Councilman Roberto Uranga in a statement, whose district funded the project. “Improving the business corridor is one of my top priorities, so it was unfortunate that the project was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Now, seeing them come to life, he said it was worth the wait.

“I think when you go see them in person, I think you’ll get that impact within the context of the location of each one,” Cohn said.

Editor’s note: Joon the Goon, aka Joon Alvarado, is a creative designer for the Long Beach Post. Asia Morris is a former Long Beach Post staff writer. This story was updated on Nov. 16, 2021 with a statement from Councilman Roberto Uranga.

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Crystal Niebla is the West Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of her grant-funded position with the Post. If you want to support Crystal's work, you can donate to her Report For America position at lbpost.com/support.
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