Powerful art project

Students Rachel Capezza, left, and Janelly Ronquillo

Students Rachel Capezza, left, and Janelly Ronquillo work on Andrew Flores’ design featuring 9/11 first responders’ badges on the top of a utility box. The flag and eagle are the work of Amanda Fishbein. SCHOOL DISTRICT PHOTO

Works by students, artists and photographers grace city utility cabinets


Keep your eye out for colorful works of art sprouting up in 52 locations all over Port St. Lucie. Where there were just plain, rather ugly, 4-by 3-foot metal utility cabinets on the grass at busy intersections, paintings and lush scenic photographs may appear instead.

Turning a metal cabinet into a painting or photo isn’t a Houdini trick. About 50 students from all over the county created designs for paintings on all four sides and the top of 12 of the boxes. No matter which way you view the box, also called a cabinet, you’ll see a painting or photo.

At City Hall, look for a utility cabinet displaying an all-over painting by a marine artist. Other boxes will sport four sides and the top covered with large wrap-around scenic photographs from local photographers.

The cabinets house electronics that manage the traffic signals overhead. A second phase of the project will include another 50 to 60 boxes.

The first box, a tribute to the victims and first responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, was hand-painted in September by students from Judy Mauro’s art class at Lincoln Park Academy. It was displayed at the Port St. Lucie Civic Center during a remembrance ceremony for 9/11.

That box is on exhibit at the school district administration offices and a duplicate, with the image reproduced on a clear vinyl wrap placed around the cabinet by a local company, Signs of the Times, is at the civic center.

The technique of reproducing students’ original artwork on a vinyl wrap will allow the paintings to be replaced if the box is damaged or the original artwork fades, says Nick DiBenedetto, a city public works supervisor who is coordinating with the school district on the project.

Not all boxes are by students, though. Renowned marine artist Guy Harvey painted playful dolphins, fish, and pelicans frolicking around a blue river for a utility cabinet outside of City Hall on Port St. Lucie Boulevard at Airoso Boulevard. Another box, featuring a photo of a calm and quiet river with a kayaker, is at Crosstown and Sandia Drive. About 38 boxes will be adorned with photos of peaceful nature scenes taken by local photographers and printed on the wrap by Signs of the Times.

Thirteen of the roadside boxes are already completed and can be spotted at intersections around town — Crosstown Parkway at Cashmere Boulevard, Bayshore and Airoso, for example. There is also one for utility payments, located outside of City Hall.

The general theme of the artwork is Florida Treasures, says Kerry Padrick, the school district’s spokeswoman.

The research, designs, sketches and paintings done by students can take from three to 40 hours to create camera-ready art, says Kevin Perry, assistant to the superintendent of schools.

“I love this project,” says Michelle Berger, a former councilwoman who championed the plan. She says the City Council hopes, over the next 10 to 15 years, that it can “enhance every spot that is available to the public with art.”

Teacher Judy Mauro was thrilled that three of her students’ designs were chosen for the first box. “All of my students created designs and three designs (that work together to cover the top, the back, and the sides and front) were chosen for one box,” she says. “Those students won first place. The box was brought in and in two weeks it was finished and moved to the civic center.”

Alivia Bienz of Port St. Lucie worked on the sides and front of the 9/11 tribute box.

The 11th-grader says she was about 2 years old when the World Trade Center in New York City was attacked. Last year, during the Lincoln Park Academy wind ensemble’s trip to the city, she visited the memorial and it inspired her design.

“I tried to capture not the fear, but the hope that existed after the attack,” she says.

The faces of first responders looming above city buildings, looking down from the clouds, are meant to show that they were watching over the city. A sunrise behind the buildings is meant “to show that it’s a new day and our country can rebuild, and to incorporate the feeling of hope,” she says.

Classmate Andrew Flores, 15, chose to paint the top with first responder badges. “I picked the New York and New Jersey police departments and the New York City Fire Department,” he says. “They were the most involved in the response. Those badges symbolize their bravery. They were heroes.”

Andrew was just 2 months old when the towers came down. He learned about the attacks when he was in school. “Another event could happen but it’s scary, so I try not to think about it,” he says.

Amanda Fishbein, 18, from Port St. Lucie, designed the back of the cabinet. “I was about 3 when it happened, but I don’t remember anything about it,” she says. “I first learned about it in school when I was about 8 or 9.”

Amanda says she really wanted to do a painting for the box.

“I wanted everyone to understand, so I used something simple, the eagle and the flag,” she explains. “I wanted to show that strength and that we’re all behind each other. I was happy to contribute and proud that I could help.”

The first phase of the program is funded by $24,000 raised by the city through its recycling program. The program has accumulated $700,000 so far. The funding source for the second phase, expected to start in 2017, has not yet been named, but the price tag is expected to be around $30,000, says city spokeswoman Sarah Prohaska.


Purpose: To support the city council’s concept of putting art in as many public areas as possible.
Phase 1: 52 utility cabinets (boxes), 4 feet by 3 feet each. 12 decorated by original student artwork. 1 decorated by noted marine artist Guy Harvey. The rest decorated with photographs by local photographers and selected by local sign company Signs of the Times. All images are being printed by Signs of the Times onto clear vinyl and then wrapped around each box. Cost: $24,000, sourced from money raised by recycling. Completion: perhaps by Dec. 31 or perhaps in January.
Phase 2: Anywhere from 50 to 60 more cabinets. Start date unknown, funding unknown, but cost estimated at about $30,000.
To see a video about the project, some decorated utility boxes, and one being wrapped with vinyl, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m94CVPj3Cc

• Crosstown Parkway at: Cameo, Bayshore, Airoso boulevards and at Sandia Drive
• Gatlin Boulevard at Brescia Street and at Import Drive
• Rosser Boulevard at Aledo Lane
• Bayshore Boulevard at Prima Vista Boulevard
• Airoso Boulevard at Lakehurst Drive, Thornhill Drive, Port St. Lucie Boulevard (City Hall)
• Becker Road at Savona Boulevard
• Walton Road at the civic center’s Main Street
• A utility payment box at City Hall


• Crosstown Parkway at Cashmere Boulevard
• Del Rio Boulevard at California Boulevard
• Savona Boulevard at California Boulevard
• St. James Boulevard at Airoso Boulevard
• Prima Vista Boulevard at Irving Street
• Darwin Boulevard at Tulip Boulevard
• Darwin Boulevard at Landale Boulevard
• Darwin Boulevard at Belmont Circle