Berkeley’s visual quality of life has jumped several notches this week, courtesy of the Earth Island Institute.
The organization’s Streets Alive! initiative targeted one of the drabbest components of the urban streetscape – the ubiquitous gray metal utility box – transforming them into public canvases with the help of local artists and a $20,000 grant from the University of California Berkeley’s Chancellor Community Partnership Fund.
The public enjoyed a seven-site art opening at boxes along the edge of the campus Tuesday.
Streets Alive! aims to bring art and greenery to urban streets. Artists, all of whom have some link to the university, were asked to submit designs on the theme of sustainability.
“The project is really wonderful and is already providing some visual relief around town,” said celebrated artist, city arts commissioner and UC Berkeley alumna Robbin Légère Henderson, who graced a double box at the corner of Berkeley Way and Oxford with plum trees in blossom.
Some came with suggestions, like Erin Johnson's "Grow," at Durant and Telegraph Avenue (“Grow your food. Pitch in! Dig in!”)
UC architecture student Keenan Gravier printed his rendering of local biodiversity onto vinyl, which he attached to the surface of his box at Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way.
"We also have a lot in the works" -- 15, specifically, said project associate Christina Monzer, with five more to be installed in the coming week or two. About 60 are reserved for sponsors, "and we are looking to expand into other parts of Berkeley."
An initiative that encouraged community involvement in environmental stewardship, Earth Island Institute “consists of many projects essentially run by the people who dreamed them up," said its founder, the late David Brower. The name came from anthropologist Margaret Mead, who urged respect for “the Island Earth.”
In Berkeley, there is more in store from the Streets Alive! initiative: Students at Berkeley High School will paint homages to some of the school's outstanding alumni in more utility-box transformations.
"They look awesome," Monzer said.
The opening included a walking tour, with speeches by the artists, a Q&A session with the printer and installer.