If you go for a stroll or drive through downtown Plant City, take a moment to look for the standing art pieces at a variety of intersections.
Thanks to a collaboration between the City of Plant City, MAKE Plant City and Plant City Main Street, downtown has an extra splash of color. Several utility boxes throughout the city were transformed with vibrant art and more than 100 people gathered Sunday for a walking tour to take in each piece.
“Fred Baxter with traffic came to me with the idea and showed me the wrap technology that’s out there to essentially wrap our utility boxes in these pieces of art,” City Manager Bill McDaniel said. “I saw a great opportunity to work with Main Street and MAKE to find the artists, get the appropriate artwork and then get these wraps in place. It just adds something special to our downtown. I’m overwhelmed by how successful this really is and what a great addition it is to our downtown.”
In the spring, the city reached out to MAKE and Main Street to begin this one-of-a-kind partnership. They held an open call and received 44 submissions from artists who wished to have their work considered for the project.
There could only be eight winners and the group wanted to make sure artwork that was unique, diverse and enjoyable for the entire community was prioritized for the final decision. They then reached out to 39 different local organizations to acquire their input on the submissions. Not all responded, but enough input came in to help narrow it down to the top tier of submissions.
“Once we had the winners, we tried to be thoughtful about the details,” Arley Smude, co-founder of MAKE Plant City, said. “How should the art face based on foot and car traffic flow? Which piece is best for each box location? Joclyn’s ‘Big Cypress’ felt right near the shady oak of Baker and Collins Street. The colorful llamas should live next to the Methodist Church playground for the kids to enjoy. Jessie’s giant squid clearly belonged by Linda’s Crab Shack. ‘Señorita Fresa’ at Collins and MLK welcomes people to downtown and is a small ode to the porter in John Briggs’ mural that once did the same across the street.”
On Sunday afternoon, the community was invited to tour the city with city leaders, MAKE and Main Street members and the artists who were selected for the project. At each location, the individual artists took a moment to share their process or inspiration behind the piece. Some even went into a little detail on how they drew the artwork. McDaniel said hearing about the skill it took to design some of the artwork was “fascinating.”
“A couple of the artists said they did it on their iPads,” McDaniel said. “I joked to the person next to me that they could give us an iPad and in six years I couldn’t have drawn two straight lines. It was very interesting to hear about the process and the response from the crowd was just amazing. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.”
Mayor Rick Lott and his wife Di Lott, Commissioner Mike Sparkman and his wife Diane Sparkman and Commissioner Bill Dodson joined McDaniel on the tour. They went all over the city and McDaniel said it was evident everyone had a blast because the approximately 100 attendees stayed animated and with the group all afternoon.
McDaniel said the city contracted with a vendor to create the wraps and a company to install them.
He wanted experts to handle their creation because in his mind, the artists worked hard to create masterpieces specifically for downtown Plant City and deserved to have the highest quality material and the utmost care put toward bringing their creations to life.
It was a pet project of McDaniel’s and he said he continues to be pleasantly surprised at how well the community is responding to the additions.
It seems to be doing exactly what he had hoped it would, and as people grow more familiar with the boxes he believes the city will see walkers taking the tour themselves for quite some time.
“Day to day, we hope it will give people passing by little jolts of joy,” Smude said. “How can you not smile when you see giant sunflowers or the stunning train in ‘Henry Plant and His Railroad?’ On a high level we hope the project will grow the arts, culture and maker scene of Plant City, along with making our public space more attractive and fun. It’s an incremental step toward our downtown being the social and creative place it has the potential to be. We are lucky to have an amazing downtown, but to make it better we need people there — walking, socializing, eating, shopping. We hope the art boxes will be a small catalyst for that.”