BY JESSE LOUDENBARGER
Near every traffic light in Bloomington sits a utility box — an unattractive, featureless, aluminum rectangle, and a target for spray-painted tags. For the past six years, local artists participating in the Adopt a Box Program have transformed many of the boxes into works of art.
Brandon E. Fields, an Indiana University student from Washington, Indiana, put his mark on the town before leaving for graduate school. His robot octopus at South Rogers Street and West Patterson Drive is a tribute to his time in Bloomington.
“I had this memorable experience teaching kids here in the community,” he says, citing his time working as a substitute teacher at Monroe County Community School Corporation. “It was just this little thing a student made with toys, a robot octopus. Painting it made sense. It was like giving back.”
Three boxes on the east side of Bloomington feature art made by children — illustrations from stories written by the winners of the WTIU’s PBS KIDS Writers Contest. A downtown box, painted by Drew Etienne, gives passersby an abstract aerial view of Indiana’s iconic cornfields in retro, geometric graphics. It’s a style he picked up from his mother’s freelance artwork from the ’70s, he says.
Miah Michaelsen, Bloomington’s assistant economic development director for the arts, runs the project, which began in 2008 with six boxes under the name Pocket Art. Adopt a Box is part of the City of Bloomington’s Stop and StART initiative.
“It’s a great small-scale public art project,” Michaelsen says. “Lots of different types of artists, groups, and organizations can work on the boxes. And we like the pedestrian scale, the eye-level part of the project.”
The Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District (BEAD) has an application that needs to be filled out and a few guidelines, but beyond that, almost any artist can adopt a box and add character to the Bloomington streetscape. To help with paint and supplies, BEAD gives approved artists $100, and the citizenry, in return, gets to see dull, utilitarian boxes become original art.