Whoever thought an industrial-gray metal utility power box could look so, well, sexy?

Or, if sexy sounds a bit extreme, how about .... absolutely fabulous?

In one of the brightest mass blossomings on the downtown Bloomington landscape since the beloved Corn on the Curb displays of 2000 and 2001, the formerly nondescript boxes sitting on sidewalk corners are no longer nondescript.

Not to mention, so ugly. 

They've been transformed, caterpillar-to-butterfly, through one of the more creative forays into public art we've noticed lately ... as doubtless many of you have, too.

Actually, the extreme makeover began about a year ago, notes Tricia Stiller, executive director of the Downtown Bloomington Association, which coordinates the public art program that has bequeathed the five wall murals we've been enjoying for sometime now.

"We saw the ugly utility boxes that were doing nothing," says Stiller of the DBA's design committee, always on the lookout for new art-worthy frontiers.

The utility box makeovers have worked elsewhere around the country, she notes, and seemed to be a perfect option to dress up downtown Bloomington, which boasts a dozen of the city-owned monoliths.

"We approached the city and got their cooperation," says Stiller.

Going forward involved doing a test version to ensure that masquerading a traffic light utility box as a work of art didn't create any safety concerns.

No concerns arose, and the first transformed box premiered last summer at Center and Washington streets: a circus-themed makeover by artist Danell Dvorak.

In the months, since, "no mishaps have been caused or created by them," notes Stiller, "but they have gotten a wonderful conversation started, and people love them and want us to do more in other parts of the community."

"They add interest," says artist and gallery owner Joann Goetzinger, also of the DBA design committee. "Who wants to look at a gray box anywhere, just sitting there doing nothing and looking ugly? This adds something to the surroundings that people notice and comment on."

As the year progressed, another box was painted here, then there.

"It's great for the artists," says Goetzinger, "because they get to participate in something that connects them to the downtown," she says of that community, much of it located downtown, via studios and galleries.

When the current project is completed by summer's end, there will be 12 of the boxes on display downtown (in fact, the day this column was penned, one of them was being primed over noon hour for painting later this past week).

Unlike the Corn on the Curb creations, which eventually had to be taken down and auctioned off, these power boxes aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

According to Goetzinger, the DBA design committee has its eye on another series of power boxes, along Madison and East streets, but these are owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation, not the city of Bloomington.

"We don't have permission yet ... if anyone knows how to get it, let us know!"

(For artists wanting to pitch in with these or other public art projects, contact Goetzinger at joanngoetzinger@gmail.com)

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com 

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