Colorful murals take over city traffic boxes

Brianna Benitez, Assistant Life and Arts Editor

San Marcos intersections are getting a makeover. What are now plain, metal traffic control boxes will soon be transformed into colorful artwork that is bound to make traffic jams more tolerable.

San Marcos announced a contest for the city’s Traffic Control Box Art program December 2019. The contest is part of the city’s Call for Artists project which encourages artists to submit designs for public artworks such as murals.

The Traffic Control Box Art program invites artists to create mini murals that would be placed on three traffic control boxes along Ranch Road 12 at the intersections of Holland Street, Hughson Street and Craddock Avenue.

Of the 80 applications submitted nationwide, 60 met the requirements and were reviewed by the San Marcos Arts Commission.

The Traffic Control Box Art program was created to enhance the San Marcos community by adding works of art throughout the streetscape. San Marcos Art Coordinator Trey Hatt said the traffic box mini murals function to beautify public spaces in the community and decrease the instances of graffiti around the city.

“If you put designs on a blank space or wall people tend to avoid vandalizing it with graffiti,” Hatt said. “They won’t usually mess with something that has art or a cool design on it.”

Hatt said San Marcos actively looks at other art programs in neighboring cities and towns for inspiration on public art projects.

“It’s even better when other cities can look at the cool things we’re doing and take it to their cities too,” Hatt said. ” I think we’ve got a really good two-way flow of ideas and inspiration going on among cities in the area.”

Funding for the Traffic Control Box Art is provided by the city’s permanent art fund. Hatt said the fund is supplied by the Hotel Occupancy Tax that the city receives from hotels in the area.

“That money is used to help enhance tourism in the city and one of those uses that we can use that money for is public art,” Hatt said.

Since the majority of traffic control boxes in the city are owned by the Texas Department of Transportation, Hatt said only boxes owned by San Marcos can be eligible for the Traffic Control Box Art program. The city will announce another Call for Artists submission contest for three traffic control boxes later this spring.

The Traffic Control Box Art program began in 2016. There are currently five traffic control boxes that have been designed for various intersections throughout the city including the intersections of Sessom Drive and Comanche Street, Sessom Drive and N LBJ Drive, Sessom Drive and Peques Street, Centerpoint Road and the Tanger Premium Outlets and McCarthy Lane and Leah Avenue.

When Ksenia Nation, an Austin-based technical designer, received the news that she was selected as this year’s Call for Artists recipient, she said it felt amazing to know she would be able to give back to the San Marcos community.

Nation submitted three thematically related designs for three traffic boxes located on Ranch Road 12. All three of her submissions were selected and will be digitalized and printed on a vinyl wrap.

Nation’s enthusiasm for art bloomed at a young age. At 11 years old, Nation enrolled in art school and primarily focused on drawing and painting.

After an interest in wanting to create a more physical form of art, Nation moved to Texas from Russia to pursue a career in architecture. For the past nine years, Nation has lived in Texas. She lived in San Marcos 2013-2015.

“I thought if I could work on buildings then technically I would be making tangible art,” Nation said.

Nation said she felt a responsibility to submit a series of work for the Traffic Control Box Art program that not only embodied the local environment but incorporated references to architectural design.

All three designs are watercolor based and feature vibrant shades of pink, purple, blue, yellow and orange. Digital images of local aquatic wildlife such as turtles and salamanders are placed throughout the designs. Although each piece is different, they all evoke the blend of nature and city.

“I hope that when people drive by the traffic box and see a fish or a turtle they will realize that nature is all around us,” Nation said. “Even though you are sitting in traffic, there’s still nature all around you.”

Nation said it is heartwarming to be able to give back to the community she was part of. She said it feels great being able to influence the community in such a creative way.

“Having lived in San Marcos, it’s a part of me,” Nation said. “I feel like I have left some kind of footprint in the city.”

Each of Nation’s pieces will be printed and applied to the traffic boxes by the San Marcos based graphic design company, Lucky Sky Graphics.

Jeannene Herber, owner of Lucky Sky Graphics, said the digital format of Nation’s designs will be enlarged and printed on material that is identical to vehicle wrap. Heber said the printing process takes about an hour and the actual application of the wrap to the traffic boxes can take anywhere from two to three hours.

Lucky Sky Graphics last printed and applied three traffic box designs for the city at the end of 2018. Herber said the process of applying the design to the traffic boxes is fun due to the positive response from the community.

“People that are driving by will honk and wave,” Herber said. “Everyone is very appreciative of it and it’s really a lot of fun to be involved.”

If the weather is decent, Herber said Lucky Sky Graphics will apply the artwork to the traffic control boxes this week, if not by mid-March. She said it is a neat experience being able to work with the Call for Artists program and transform a plain object such as a traffic box with meaningful artwork.

“We have a lot of artists here in San Marcos and it’s nice to showcase them,” Herber said.

For more information on the Call for Artists program visit https://www.sanmarcostx.gov/486/Calls-for-Artists.

CORRECTION: Ksenia Nation’s title was misreported in the print version of this article March 10 and has since been corrected.

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