Next time you’re sitting at a stoplight in Federal Way, you may find fireworks, colorful dogs donning sunglasses, or you could be looking into the eyes of Sasquatch.
The Federal Way Arts Commission is behind the city’s vinyl-wrapped utility box murals, deemed “Traffic Graffics.” These public art displays can be found on most intersection street corners throughout the city.
Former Arts Commission board chair Gary Gillespie launched the Utility Box Art Pilot Program in 2014 after he first saw the idea demonstrated in California; more research showed utility box painting was happening all over the country.
“It made it look like the community cared,” Gillespie recalled.
Since then, nearly 30 utility boxes in Federal Way have been transformed into works of art.
One utility box near the Federal Way Transit Center commemorates the Seattle Seahawks football team. The most recent utility box art installation was designed by Decatur High School student Samantha Mendoza-Rojas whose “Starry Night” artwork conveys childhood, imagination and wonder.
There are some guidelines for the art displays: the designs have to be colorful, bold and fun pieces. And they must be noticeable, even when driving past at 40 miles an hour, said Dan Hershman, current chair of the Federal Way Arts Commission.
Traffic Graffics are placed in busy, high-visibility areas with clear views from as many angles as possible, Hershman said.
The core downtown is a hub for the Traffic Graffics, trickling down Pacific Highway, 320th, and along 1st Avenue in Federal Way.
Once a location is picked and a theme is chosen, then the Arts Commission calls for artists to submit designs. The Traffic Graffics committee will review the submissions and select a winner. Graphics are then digitally printed on vinyl wraps, sized to fit the specific utility box.
“It really turns a drab and dreary intersection into something fun and lively,” Hershman said, adding that the boxes also discourage tagging or other forms of graffiti. “If it makes you smile, then it has done its job.”
Hershman’s favorite is the Sasquatch-themed utility box by Margie Sheeley, which stares at the traffic whizzing by near South 352nd and Pacific Highway, because “the Sasquatch is right there in plain sight. That’s the point, you just have to look.”
It just makes living in Federal Way a little more fun and a lot more interesting, he said.
“You’re living in the world of art without even thinking about it,” Hershman said. “You’re enjoying an aesthetic in your everyday experience.”
The Traffic Graffic committee is calling for artists to submit their designs to fit the upcoming utility box design theme of cats.