Learn the story of how the utility boxes in Sherman Oaks became works of art.
And meet the local artists.
Photographed byMonica Orozco
Camellia Steele | The Pasadena native is a professional artist who specializes in photo-realism on canvas and also does murals. For more, go to @camelliaalexandra
Sherman Oaks has a whopping four organizations dedicated to making the city a great place to live: the Chamber of Commerce, Neighborhood Council, Business Improvement District and the Homeowners Association. Their work is visible across the area, from the installation of landscaped medians and hanging flower baskets to the meticulous grooming of trees. And now some of the biggest eyesores on the Blvd are being beautified.
“We had been working for over a year on local murals. As great as murals are, they take a long time to get designed, approved and painted,” explains Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce CEO Vicki Nussbaum. “Our Foundation Board learned that painted utility boxes were often faster to roll out, and we partnered with Councilmember David Ryu’s office to get started. We were excited about being able to beautify all of Sherman Oaks, rather than just one location.”
The next step, getting local artists, was accomplished through social media. Artists, who range in age from late teens to 70s, include professionals as well as hobbyists. “We purposely chose a wide variety—each with very different artistic styles,” Vicki says. The only instruction was to “include an oak leaf or an oak tree in their design, as an underlying tie to Sherman Oaks,” she explains.
One of the artists is Camellia Steele, who has been selling her work since she was 14. The high school student started painting birdhouses, which drew the attention of some local merchants. Within a couple of months she had sold around 60 birdhouses. Since then she has focused on nature scenes and animals with acrylic on canvas.
“Beauty can move people emotionally and inspire them. I love the idea of people seeing art while they’re walking or driving down the street,” she says. “I chose to paint Mother Nature.”
Steve Farrow took on two boxes. He is a professional artist who graduated from Art Center College Of Design. One of his designs features penguins. “I’m glad that my artwork on the boxes will be seen by a large amount of people. I want it to be something pleasant and to bring a smile to the peoples’ faces. If the penguins bring a laugh even better!” he says.
Serena Vartazarian is at the other end of the artist spectrum. She is an attorney who simply “loves to doodle, draw, and paint in my free time.” Her box is a collage of different flowers in bright colors. Serena sees the boxes as a way of fostering community, “giving people something to admire and talk about.”
When each box is complete, it is shellacked with a graffiti-proof coating. “It is amazing. We paint it on with a paintbrush, and we have had to clean about eight boxes so far, and the graffiti all comes clean!” says Vicki.
More than three dozen fixtures were painted in all; the chamber plans to have the remaining two dozen painted as well.
“Everyone has noticed,” she remarks. “Not surprisingly, everyone has a different favorite box.”