Jason Gould, owner of Visual, the art-supply store and gallery in North Park, is constantly reminded of the relative lack of art and artistic opportunities in the neighborhood, which is considered one of the city's cultural hubs. Tourists often stop by his shop to ask where they can see street murals or public art, and while he can point them to a few nearby alleyways, he's usually left without much to say.
"There's just nothing substantial here compared to other cities," he says.
Artists, too, often approach Gould in hopes of finding opportunities to get their art up in North Park. Earlier this summer, tired of turning both tourists and artists away, he approached the nonprofit business association North Park Main Street and asked if he could partner up and help get public-art projects going.
The organization's response was an emphatic yes, but it had no money. It pointed Gould to the area's electrical boxes and told him he could help repaint them. First, though, he'd need to photograph each box before it was repainted and email the photos to the folks at North Park Main Street so they could inform the artist who'd previously painted the box. Before starting on a box, Gould was told to await North Park Main Street's final approval.
Gould did that at first, but the process was slow, and the enthusiastic response he was getting by posting photos of the completed boxes to social media inspired him to just move forward, guerilla-style, and paint more boxes without waiting for official approval.
North Park Main Street eventually got on board, too, and, so far, more than 15 boxes have been repainted with fresh designs by local artists like Christopher Konecki, Jaclyn Rose, Carly Ealey, Nick McPherson, Alex Avila and Don't Trip. Gould started calling the venture the Visual Public Art Project, and he's selectively curated the artists involved, hoping to soon host an exhibition and fundraiser to earn money for bigger public-art projects.
"At least it's a start; it's something," Gould says, standing near two freshly painted boxes at the corner of 30th Street and North Park Way. "There was just no momentum toward public art
. I don't know how much this will help, but you just got to do it. It's better than not doing anything."