A splash of public art has recently appeared in unexpected places in downtown West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street District.
Thanks to support from the Downtown Development Authority and the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, six formerly graffiti-laden metal electric utility boxes have received an art makeover as part of the city’s Art in Public Places initiative.
The six boxes have been wrapped in colorful vinyl encasements that depict historic photos of the district juxtaposed against colorful modern-day scenes. Two artistically inclined local merchants, Beau Myers, an artist who works with his family business, Myers Luggage, and Cory Gershberg, who owns Thread Warrior printing company, came up with the idea.
“I got the idea a few years ago when I saw something similar on a visit to San Diego for a friend’s wedding,” Myers said. “When I started talking to Corey, who is a graphic designer and works for a printing company, he told me that his company creates the wrapping for buses and we could do something similar.”
So collectively Myers and Gershberg, who have been friends since they attended high school together, came up with the idea to pair the photos and imagery. “I went through hundreds of old photos of the avenue,” Myers remarked. “The ones we chose are all mostly from Clematis Street in the 1960s.”
They approached the DDA and said boxes would help beautify the downtown area and create an interesting homage to the district’s history and growth. In one, you see the street in the early 1960s, looking like a scene straight out of Oliver Stone’s film JFK. An Arthur Murray Studios awning hands from a second floor shop window and a Western Union sign juts out from a street-side shop. 1950s-era Chevys and similar cars line the street. However, in the background, Myers and Gershberg have added a colorful modern-day waterfront scene with the requisite Florida pink-and-blue sky shining brightly above yachts and deep-blue sea. The other boxes similarly juxtapose historical scenes of local buildings, such as the public reading room that is now the Mandel Library, with splashes of color and modern snapshots.
Public art programs have become increasingly common around the country. In New York City, the Public Art Fund is entirely dedicated to funding public works by artists to be displayed in popular tourist spots, such as Rockefeller Center and Central Park. Miami also has an Art in Public Places initiative that’s deemed one of the nation’s best.
Closer to home, here in Palm Beach County, the cities of Delray Beach and Palm Beach Gardens both have public art initiatives and have used art projects as a way to enhance public gathering spots.
“This project is another example of the DDA coming together with some of our community partners to enhance the visitor experience downtown through art and culture,” the authority’s executive director, Raphael Clemente, said in a prepared statement. “These pop-up photos help beautify the city and make sure it’s always original for our residents and guests.”
Myers also thinks they serve as a community builder.
“I’ve watched people as they approach the boxes smile and turn and talk to each other. They create a focal point and a conversation starter.” He adds, “Art and beauty enhance life and spur people’s creativity.”
For more information about the boxes and other public art programs in downtown West Palm Beach, visit http://www.westpalmbeachdda.com/.