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    East Village Neighborhoods Get Something Special: Hand Painted Artwork On Utility Boxes

    Residents approach one artist at work and say, "Thank you for what you're doing."

    Urban art Dec. 15/02(December 15, 2002, updated Dec. 16) -- East Village neighborhoods, which in the past received dense "crackerbox" development and other indignities, are now getting something special: hand painted artwork on utility boxes.

    LB artist Cathy Franklin was hard at work at 7th and Elm today, a blustery Sunday afternoon.

    The urban artwork, supported by a City Hall (Neighborhood Services Bureau) grant to the East Village Association and artist honoraria paid by Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA), has added colorful, custom images to drab signal control boxes in the East Village arts district (borders: 15th St. to Ocean Blvd., and Alamitos Ave. to LB Blvd.)

    We watched as a pedestrian stopped and stared and was visibly thrilled someone was helping beautify the neighborhood. "Beautiful, beautiful!" he said while lugging a bag of groceries, stopping to add, "Thank you for what you're doing."

    Apparently he wasn't the only one to say so. Ms. Franklin said there'd been a steady stream of residents who approached during the day simply to thank her for helping beautify their neighborhood.

    Urban art Dec. 15/02Ms. Franklin was one of 23 artists selected to create original artwork for the project She said she received a credit for brushes and paints at a local art store (and is allowed to keep the brushes) and gets a modest sum.

    But the thank-yous from neighborhood residents were an unexpected and personally touching plus.

    "I am just blown away," Ms. Franklin said.

    Tom Hayashi, an organizational development consultant to the East Village Association, told the project involved the East Village Association, City Hall's Neighborhood Services Bureau and Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA).

    Mr. Hayashi said the original East Village Ass'n neighborhood group evolved into a non-profit organization specifically servicing the East Village area of downtown LB. When City Hall offered an urban beautication grant (matching local resources, including volunteer time, with federal Community Development Block Grant funds) through its Neighborhood Partners program, the now non-profit East Village Ass'n applied for the grant and got it.

    As a result, 23 "switch gear" (utility/light boxes) are being painted by 23 individual artists, each commissioned to produce original work. Ms. Franklin (above) was among them, chosen by a panel of community arts leaders. The project has been in the planning stages for the last year or so, Mr. Hayashi said.

    He indicated the cost of materials and preparation of the utility boxes was provided through City Hall's Neighborhood Services Bureau and the commission for the artist to actually produce the original artwork, an honorarium, was provided by DLBA.

    Mr. Hayashi told the East Village Association was excited about the project and the Neighborhood Services Bureau grant and DLBA support were especially welcome after the City Council voted to reduce Public Corporation for the Arts funding from last year's level. (In late Sept. 2001, the Council budgeted a record $1.75 million for the PCA; in Sept. 2002, the Council voted to budget $1.3 million for the PCA.)

    "With a significant deficit in arts funding, seeing this project realized is a great thing," Mr. Hayashi said.

    Ms. Franklin added, "Things like urban art are important to people because they improve the neighborhood environment. They deserve City Hall support."

    Margaret Madden of LB's Neighborhood Resource Center tells the next round of proposals for such grants starts January 17/03 with a mandatory workshop on January 29. "The grants are for federally designated low to moderate income neighborhoods and we can help neighborhood groups apply for the funds," Ms. Madden said. Her phone number is (562) 570-1010, or she suggests contacting Jim Osgood (of the Neighborhood Services Bureau) directly at (562) 570-5221.

    [ comment: Since we prefer private contributions to taxpayer art funds (especially when City Hall says it's spending far more than it's taking in), we're glad to honor Mr. Hayashi's request that we include his email address for those who may be interested in information about contributions to similar urban projects:]

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