Here’s a great idea: Transform utility boxes into works of art

The St. Croix River Valley is about to get a lot more colorful.

Marine on St. Croix resident Fitzie Heimdahl plans to turn 10 utility boxes in Stillwater’s Lowell Park and 13 in Marine on St. Croix into works of art.

A concept by Marine on St. Croix artist Tom Maakestad shows what could be done for the "Power of the St. Croix Utility Box Mural Project," 2018 winner of the Great Idea contest run by the Stillwater Area Community Foundation. (Courtesy of Stillwater Area Community Foundation)
A concept by Marine on St. Croix artist Tom Maakestad shows what could be done for the “Power of the St. Croix Utility Box Mural Project,” 2018 winner of the Great Idea contest run by the Stillwater Area Community Foundation. (Courtesy of Stillwater Area Community Foundation)

Heimdahl was this year’s winner of the Stillwater Area Community Foundation’s Great Idea Competition. This is the contest’s sixth year

Heimdahl received a $6,750 grant to launch what she’s calling the “Power of the St. Croix Utility Box Mural Project.”

Heimdahl’s plan will transform “plain, unsightly utility boxes into beautiful works of art,” said Miriam Simmons, chairwoman of the foundation’s board.

Each year, the foundation accepts applications from residents, businesses, nonprofits and other groups who have an idea that will benefit local communities — and who have the determination and ability to put it into action. Ten applications were submitted this year.

“Does it benefit the community and have an impact?” Simmons said. “We just felt that the utility-box project would be highly visible and would be a way to contribute to the beauty of our surroundings.”

The majority of the grant will be used to commission original art from local artists, centered around the theme of the St. Croix River, Heimdahl said. Artists who want to participate are invited to apply through ArtReach St. Croix.

Several cities across the country have completed similar projects, which reduce graffiti and vandalism, Heimdahl said.

He has previously introduced the concept to Menomonie, Wis., and Minneapolis.

“This project will be the first of its kind in the St. Croix Valley,” Heimdahl said. “Besides recognizing local artists, it will also create a distinct attraction within the Valley, encouraging visitors to stop and explore.”

Stillwater and Marine on St. Croix have committed to cofunding the project. He hopes that it will expand to Bayport and other parts of Stillwater.

The project will pair with a previous winner of the Great Idea Competition, Lens Flare Stillwater, previously known as PIVOT Stillwater, Simmons said.

Robert Molenda, who won the competition in 2016, helped launch a free app that allows people standing at select locations in downtown Stillwater to swipe the screen of their iPhone or iPad and see photographs of what the site used to look like.

“Hopefully, people looking at the boxes will be able to access the app and learn more about the location,” Simmons said.

Other past Great Idea winners include Beautify the Stillwater Stairs, River City Sculpture Tour, Pollinator Friendly Alliance of Stillwater, and Friends of Stillwater Area Dog Park.


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