Artists brighten San Anselmo through colorful utility box paintings

”Hope has Wings” painted by Maggie Maloney is inspired by native butterflies.

Ellis Chamberlin

”Hope has Wings” painted by Maggie Maloney is inspired by native butterflies.

While the pandemic created separation due to people being housebound, the San Anselmo Arts Commission used visual art to bring the community together.  

The San Anselmo Arts Commission is a non-profit organization that promotes local art. Typically, a large focus of the Arts Commission is music, however this has been challenging during the pandemic due to restrictions on large group gatherings. The visual art utility box project had perfect timing.

The San Anselmo Arts Commission brought the project of painting 13 town-owned utility boxes to the public through a competition advertised in the Marin Independent Journal in July. Entries had to be original designs using black and white as well as one color that reflected the neighborhood and community.  

“We wanted to promote public art [and] give local artists an opportunity [to] have their work shown. Public art can make a place more lively,” arts commissioner Kathleen Edwards said.

“Circle of Life” painted by Kathleen Edwards features basketry patterns in honor of the first people of this land. (Ellis Chamberlin)

Phase one of the project featured four artists who painted utility boxes westbound on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard near the entrance of San Anselmo. The project continued with phase two on utility boxes north and southbound on Sir Francis Drake. One of the seven artists featured in phase two was High School 1327 (HS 1327)  junior Maggie Maloney.  

“My AP art teacher told our whole class about the project at the start of the school year and I thought it sounded like a fun opportunity,” Maloney said. 

Maloney’s painting titled “Hope Has Wings” features monarch butterflies that she hopes will evoke the beauty of the California native butterfly. Her utility box can be found at the corner of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Suffield Avenue.  

Edwards’ art is also featured on a utility box. Her painting is titled “Circle of Life”. The design elements are inspired by the Coast Miwok basketry patterns in honor of the first people of this land. All painting supplies were provided by the Arts Commission, as well as a small stipend for all of the artists.

Phase one was financed by existing Arts Commission funds, but because of COVID-19, funds were low. Therefore, for phase two, fundraising efforts were necessary. This included a GoFundMe page, as well as reaching out to local businesses for support.  

Another artist selected was Darcy Nicholson, a HS 1327 alumni. Her painting titled “Blue Belly Gratitude” is inspired by the blue belly lizard and its ability to combat lymes disease in ticks.  

“Blue Belly Gratitude” painted by Darcy Nicholson features a blue belly lizard which has an ability to combat lymes disease. (Ellis Chamberlin)

“Marin County is super unique for the fact that there is a really big celebration of nature and environmental science and it’s a big part of the culture here. One thing I wanted to do is highlight that and enhance it,” Nicholson said.  

The artists said they enjoyed being out in the town creating art and beautifying the San Anselmo community. Another highlight was interacting with people who gave them words of praise and encouragement.  

“I like knowing that [the utility box art] can be inspirational to others. Art can happen anywhere,” Nicholson said.  

Public art has a way of adding color and brightness to a community. When something like a rusted and gray utility box is painted with bright colors and meaningful symbols, it can lift spirits and bring people together.  

There are two utility boxes left to paint, both of which are near the HS 1327 campus. These two boxes will be awarded to HS 1327 artists to paint.

Get inspired by checking out a complete map of San Anselmo’s painted utility boxes and artists featured.