Given the economic hardship endured by many artists during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, officials from the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art – under the umbrella of Visit Hattiesburg – have made it a priority to support local artists in any way possible.
To that end, HAPA – in cooperation with the City of Hattiesburg – is issuing a Call for Artists for the second phase of a project aimed at decorating bare utility boxes located on several streets and throughways around the city. Artists with experience in public art or painting are invited to submit up to three original artworks for consideration for the project.
“We know that by doing smaller-scale projects, instead of one large art mural, we can use that same amount of budget to support up to 21 local artists on a smaller scale,” said Kristen Brock, director of programs and promotions at Visit Hattiesburg. “During COVID, where there’s a great need for artists to secure some income, this would be an opportunity to help a greater number of local artists in Hattiesburg.”
Phase II of the utility box project will include 21 utility boxes throughout Hattiesburg, and artists will receive a stipend for each completed piece. Artists are required to include a concept statement with each proposal, and applications must be submitted electronically at www.hattiesburgpublicart.org/call-for-artistsby 5 p.m. Feb. 5.
The painting of selected designs will begin in February and continue throughout the summer.
“As we work through HAPA, our goal is to not only serve the community and make it a more vibrant place to live,” Brock said. “We also want public art to be thoroughly accessible to visitors as well, so that’s why all the (utility boxes) are going to be on the main thoroughfare of Hardy Street and 4thStreet, from downtown to midtown.”
Officials are currently working with the Hattiesburg Community Arts Center and the Southern Miss Alumni Association, which will assist in presenting Phase II. Judging criteria for final selection include artistic merit, creativity, demonstrated ability, technical knowledge and interpretation of theme.
“Because this is a smaller-scale project, individuals who may not have as much experience doing a large-scale painting, this is kind of a segue into them being able to participate in public art,” Brock said. “We’re contacting a list of emerging artists with the Hattiesburg Arts Council, and the Mississippi Arts Commission has provided a grant to HAPA this year to support artists, so we have used their roster of visual artists to contact.
“All in all, we’ve contacted about a hundred artists directly, and it’s on all of our social media channels as well. I think we should easily be able to fill all 21 (boxes), and then once Phase II of the project is done, we’ve identified more boxes that we could do a Phase III as well.”
Phase I of the utility box project, which was completed in the summer of 2020, includes five boxes painted by local artists Vixon Sullivan, Thomas Jackson and Kalamity Karn. Sullivan completed “Keep Your Dream Alive” at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and JC Killingsworth Drive, while Karn completed “Unified” at the intersection of Hardy and Broad streets.
Jackson has three pieces to his name: “Graves Brothers” at Hardy Street and South 21stAvenue, “Heroes” at South 28thAvenue and Hillendale Drive, and “Let’s Play Ball” at Hardy Street and Park Avenue. “Heroes” pays tribute to health care workers, “Let’s Play Ball” depicts a game of baseball, and “Graves Brothers” shows the brothers who held a recording session in the Hattiesburg in the 1930s.
“It felt really good to do something that a lot of people were going to see in town as they drove by,” Jackson said. “As I was working on them, I would have a lot of people that would stop and comment on it, especially (“Heroes”) by the hospital.
“It just kind of gave them something to look at as they were coming in out of work. It wasn’t my idea to paint them – it was (Mayor Toby Barker’s) idea – but I thought it was a great idea to do it because I’ve never even really even noticed these signal boxes before. They’re just these gray boxes that are all over town, and just giving an artist an opportunity to use that as a canvas – instead of this dull gray box, you’ve got a work of art.”
Brock said officials made an effort to find boxes in Phase I that were located in each of the city’s five wards.
“If you think of something like a utility box, they’re either not noticed at all, or they’re more an eyesore on these roads,” she said. “So for the first time, we really turned something not as pretty into a beautification project for the city.
“So not only is it public art, it’s also beautifying the community at the same time.”