A public vote is underway to decide the winners of an art competition to make over some of the big, grey traffic control boxes in downtown Olympia and on the west side.
Inspired by similar competitions in other cities, the Olympia Arts Commission decided to use traffic control boxes as an opportunity to highlight local artists and beautify Olympia, said Stephanie Johnson, the city of Olympia’s arts and events program manager.
“Traffic boxes are the brains for the intersection lights,” Johnson said. “Once you know what they look like, you can’t miss them at every intersection.”
The downtown boxes are about 3-1/2 feet tall; the west side boxes are about 5 feet tall.
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The commission joined up with a pre-existing plan to put walking maps on the boxes and identified 20 boxes — 10 downtown and 10 on the west side — to be covered with vinyl wraps featuring 20 designs.
“This brings art into the neighborhoods,” Johnson said. “We have a really great arts community, and it’s nice to be able to share that with the greater community.”
Artists of all ages submitted a total of 131 proposed designs by May 28 for use either downtown or on the west side. Some artists entered designs into both competitions, since they were allowed to enter each option once.
People can vote by visiting the “City of Olympia — Government” Facebook page and “liking” their favorite choices from the two photo albums. Likes count as votes.
“I’m excited about the voting component. It’s exciting to do this online, and it’s exciting for people to be able to participate in a direct way,” Johnson said.
Ballots and a display board of the options also are available at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW.
There is no limit to how many times a person can vote. “You can vote once or 20 times or more,” Johnson said.
Voting ends at 5 p.m. Friday. The 10 artists with the most votes from each category will have their work put on display.
As of Friday, more than 20,000 votes had been cast online and about 50 had been cast by ballot at The Olympia Center.
Winning designs will be printed onto vinyl wraps and applied to the boxes. The city plans to remove the wraps after 2-3 years, depending on their condition.
Putting the designs on vinyl wraps allowed for more types of artwork to be entered into the contest, Johnson said.
The submissions could be illustrations, paintings, computer designed images, quilts, mosaics, photographed sculptures, photographs and more.
The wraps on the downtown boxes will include pedestrian maps on one side, and the west side boxes will have art on both sides.
Designs are expected to go up in October. If all goes well, a similar project will be considered for the east side next year.
“I can’t wait to see the images on the boxes — that’s going to be really fun,” Johnson said. “They’ll be great additions to the built environment, and it showcases our local artists.”
Vida Zvirzdys-Farler, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, said she supports any project to beautify Olympia.
“This is a great opportunity for artists and I think it’s a great idea to cover the ugly boxes,” she said.
“I’m excited for the artwork. I voted and told people to vote. I was amazed at how many entries there were. It will definitely add more character to downtown.”
Natalie DeFord: 360-754-5444