The second phase of the local utility box mural project is underway as five more artists ply their skills around Hollister. The project began in 2015, when the San Benito County Arts Council partnered with two local artists, Joel Esqueda and Roland Resendiz, according to Jennifer Laine, executive director. She said the two were looking for partners and the arts council took the idea to the Hollister City Council for approval and funding. After the council approved the project, five utility boxes were chosen along San Benito Street.

“Joel was the artist on two of the boxes; David Guterrez did one box; and John Elliott, who is based in San Francisco, did the other two boxes,” Laine noted. “They each worked with groups and assistant artists.”

Laine said the arts council always intended for the project to have at least one more phase.

“We began working on that this past Fall,” she said. “We got some funding from the Community Foundation, which funded two boxes. The Arts Council funded two boxes and the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce sponsored one box.”

With funding for five more boxes, Phase 2 was officially underway and the arts council put out the word to local artists. Laine said seven artists submitted proposals and the Hollister Public Art Review Committee selected five of them.

“There was an exciting discussion when the committee was looking at the proposals,” she said. “A few of the artists attended the meeting and were able to discuss in more detail about their designs. The committee was looking at the quality of the designs, the artists’ backgrounds, and whether they worked on public art projects before. For one of the artists, Marisa Duran, this was her first big public art piece. It was exciting to be able to extend that opportunity to an up-and-coming artist.”

In the first phase, the budget was $800 per box for the artists’ time and materials. Laine said, though, that the committee quickly realized that amount hardly paid for the artists’ time, so for the second phase they increased the artist fee per box to $1,300. For a vinyl one, the artist received $500 for her design and then $800 went to pay for the vinyl printing and installation.

“During the first phase, we built a nice rapport with the city council, which was very supportive and the city funded it with a $4,000 grant,” she said. “The art council served as the fiscal sponsor of the project. For the second phase, the approval came through the public art review process. Its recommendations were presented to the city council last spring. The total was $6,500. The Community Foundation contributed $2,600; the San Benito County Arts Council also contributed $2,600; and then the chamber of commerce gave a $1,300 contribution.”

There were also logistic considerations. Artists had to come up with a maintenance plan based on the kinds of materials being used. For Duran’s project, the box would be wrapped in vinyl representation of her work.

“She created a new photography series focusing on youth and the arts,” Laine said. “The photos will be digitally laid out to fit on the utility box and we’re working with a vinyl printing company to do the actual printing and installation.”

Laine said it is hoped that the painted boxes will last three to five years.

“We understand that paint fades over time, but with the vinyl, that is going to be a whole different experience,” she said. “The vinyl company gave a two-year warranty, but it could last much longer. Over time, the boxes will need to have new artwork on them or the artist will be contacted to touch them up.”

To promote the murals, the arts council developed a public art walking tour map about a year and a half ago. It will be updating the map with the new boxes along with the new veterans’ mural on the rear of the Veterans Memorial Building. The guide was also printed in the chamber’s visitor’s guide.

Here are the five artists and where their murals are located in Hollister: Stephanie Skow, Nash and San Benito; Phillip Ray Orabuena, Fourth and Westside; Marisa Duran, Hillcrest and McCray; Danae Parra, Santa Ana and McCray; and David Gutierrez, Ladd Lane and Tres Pinos.

So far, Orabuena has painted eight murals throughout Hollister. He said most were free to the city because he wanted to display his art. His most recent work on the utility box demonstrates his concerns for climate change. He said his inspiration for the mural came from old National Geographic maps of the polar regions.

“It shows a polar bear, sea lion and a penguin on a melting slab of ice surrounded by smog from industry smokestacks,” he said. “The day I completed the mural project, President Trump pulled America out of the Paris Climate Accord and I was able to voice an opinion on this issue publicly.”

Danae Parra said art has always been her passion.

“I’ve taken many art classes throughout school and I recently completed my course at Laurus College in Computer Animation and Digital Arts to obtain my associates degree,” she said. “I enjoy 3-D modeling and working in Photoshop After Effects, Maya, Mudbox, and also some experience with Zbrush. I love drawing and painting, as well.”

She said she noticed the utility boxes being painted last year and knew she wanted to be a part of the project.

“I thought it would be fun and cool to leave your mark on the world,” Parra said. “I’ve always thought it would be awesome to paint a mural. Something my children could see, remember me, and think if you really want something work for it and you can do it. Also it makes the world a more colorful beautiful place. I look up to the other artists and they all inspired me.”

Parra did not have to look too far to discover inspiration for her mural.

“I thought about all the beautiful animals that I see in Hollister and how they look in nature with a bit of a twist,” she said. “I kept changing it because I wasn’t happy with the way some of it looked. It was so much fun and it felt so nice to hear how it made others happy. People were very nice to me and gave me compliments and thanked me. I appreciated that and I hope to do more murals.”

Laine said the arts council hopes to find funding for Phase 3 of the project in order to paint five more boxes.

John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...