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Pierce County program brings art to local intersections

Posted on November 21st, 2023 By:

If you’ve been stopped at a traffic light in Pierce County, you’ve likely seen some beautiful pieces of art in unlikely places.

In an effort to bring art to the community and beautify the utilitarian boxes that house traffic signal wires, the Pierce County Arts Commission in 2022 began a project to wrap signal boxes with the work of local artists.

Orcas adorn a signal box at the corner of 112th Street and 18th Avenue in Tacoma. Photos courtesy of Kala Escobar

More than 300 artists responded to the commission’s call for submissions. The commission picked 35 of those pieces for installation throughout Pierce County, said Kari Rinn, an arts specialist with the Pierce County Economic Development Department. The county paid artists $500 for each selected work.

“We were really excited about the number of entries that we got, and how many people wanted to be involved,” Rinn said. “It was really exciting to have such a wide breadth of artwork submitted. We have paintings, photographs, one that I’m pretty sure is a quilt. We have a wide variety of artwork that is represented.”

‘The Shenandoah’ and ‘Morning Divination’

Gig Harbor artist Hillarie Isackson submitted five pieces. The commission picked two of them.

One was installed in Artondale. Although Isackson typically avoids naming her pieces, this one is called “The Shenandoah.” 

“It’s the boat that is at the History Museum, and I like the colors there,” Isackson said. “I went paddleboarding under the docks, and if you go under there there are all of these colorful nets, and they look so pretty, so I put all of those rainbow nets on there. I did it initially for the history museum auction.”

Gig Harbor artist Hillarie Isackson with her work “The Shenandoah,” which adorns a traffic signal box at Wollochet Drive and 40th Street in Artondale.

The commission also selected Isackson’s “Morning Divination” and placed it at the intersection of 136th Street East and 122nd Avenue East in Puyallup. That work has special meaning for her. 

“I did that one at the beginning of 2020,” she said. “I lost my job, and decided to pursue art full time. So for me it’s one of my favorite paintings because I poured my heart into it, hoping I can do this full time.”

Morning Divination is on a traffic signal box at the corner of 152nd Street and 122nd Avenue in Puyallup. Photo courtesy of Hillarie Isackson

A colorful touch

The county tried to install most of the pieces in the artists’ communities. Kala Escobar of Tacoma is an exception. One of her pieces is at the corner of Filmore and Wollochet drives. 

“I’ve been doing art all of my life,” Escobar said. “My father is an artist, and he was a woodworker, so I grew up in a studio, but my training is in mathematics.”

Escobar works in acrylics but dabbles in other mediums. She works mostly in private sales, and has some murals in the lobby of a dentist’s office.

The floral piece can be seen on a traffic signal box at the corner of Fillmore and Wollochet drives in Gig Harbor, and also at the corner of 112th St E and Golden Given Road in South Tacoma.

“I love to work in large format,” she said. “I believe in art in public spaces, and we have so many spaces with concrete walls that could be made more appealing if we add that artistic, colorful touch.”

Where to find them

Artists submitted their work as a high resolution photo. The county converted the pictures to vinyl wraps, Isackson said. Rinn said the wraps should last five years, and the feedback on the project has been positive. 

“It’s been really wonderful to hear how it makes peoples’ day,” Rinn said. “Hopefully the impact is great.”

An online map shows the locations of most of the traffic box art. Rinn is working on adding the remainder to the map when weather allows her to get good pictures of them.