Cover up: Shaker Heights utility box designs continue into fifth year

Cruising around Shaker Heights, or any other city, you’re bound to come upon a few utility boxes—housing everything from phone lines to electrical systems for running the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Rapid trains. “Some boxes are owned by the city, some by the utility companies, and others are owned by RTA,” explains Sally Levine, Shaker Arts Council (SHAC) president.

Those boxes can be considered an eyesore, so SHAC decided to try something different in 2016—let Shaker Heights High School student Ananda Prioleau design a utility box cover on the corner of South Woodland and Woodbury Roads.

“It started with a single box that was designed by a high school senior for her senior project,” says Levine. “We helped support that, working with the high school and the city.”

Sheri LawrenceThe Painting the Town and Building Blocks utility box projects have been so successful, that SHAC continued the design competition over the past four years—working with both Shaker high school seniors and professional artists. SHAC is continuing the program in 2021 in a partnership with the RTA called SHAC on TRAC.

SHAC released a call for artists on Tuesday, Feb. 23 to design utility box covers along the Rapid’s Blue and Green lines on Shaker and Van Aken Boulevards.

“We reached out to RTA to get permission to use their boxes because there is a continued interest in this project—not only from artists, but also from the residents,” explains Levine.

After the first box in 2016 was so well received, SHAC decided to give another high school senior a shot in 2017 and Maisha Afrikah Lewis designed a cover for the box on the corner of South Woodland and Parkland Roads.

While no students applied to decorate a utility box in 2018, in 2019 the council expanded the program to include professional artists. Student Maria Maldonado designed the box at the corner of Lee Road and Van Aken Boulevard, while artists Amy Lewandowski; Sheri Lawrence; Renee Parker Boyle; Tamar Jensen; and Hilda Gabarron Ordorica (Higo) designed boxes throughout the city.

Last year, artist Renee Parker Boyle represented Lomond Neighborhood Association and designed a box on Palmerston Road and Chagrin Boulevard, and Alicia Vasquex represented Sussex Neighborhood Association and designed a box at Norwood Road and Chagrin Boulevard. Artists Jacqueline Kahane Freedman, Julia Kuo, and Higo also created box covers.

The vinyl box wraps are installed by Warrensville Heights-based Diamond Signs and Graphics. Levine says the wraps are designed to last 10 years. “The oldest one is a little less vibrant than it was when we first installed it,” she says. “But it’s still intact and it’s not scratched.”

Applicants who are interested in the 2021 SHAC on TRAC program must be at least 21 years old and live or work in Shaker Heights or work in the Shaker Heights School District. Applications will be accepted through Friday, April 30 at 5 p.m.

The artists are selected by a blind jury made up of professional artists and arts educators, and thanks to a $5,000 project grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, artists will receive a stipend for their works.

Levine says at least a couple of students are interested in participating in the project this year, and the Shaker Heights Parent Teacher Organization is contributing to the costs of the student-designed boxes.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.