Emeryville’s “Sign of the Times” Utility Box public art getting a refresh

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Quite a few residents have mourned the loss of Emeryville’s famed Utility Box public art that were painted over last summer. The familiar pedestrian figures have become synonymous with our town and celebrated as a way of activating city infrastructure as public art. Thankfully, they were never going anywhere, but a snafu with a painting contractor and some wet weather have delayed the installation of a new series.

The original assignment began in 2004 when Oakland-based artist Seyed Alavi worked with local Emery High kids to conceptualize the first designs. Faded and vandalized over the past decade, the city opted to contract Seyed to provide a refresh instead of touching them up or redoing them. Unfortunately, the delay between the painting and installation presented the opportunity for some local street artists to showcase their own talent, making completion of Phase II a bit of a moving target.

I like it, but I don’t think this is exactly what the City of #Emeryville had in mind. #PublicArt #EvilleArt #ArtinEmeryville

A photo posted by The E’ville Eye Community News (@evilleeye) on

Seyed finally returned to Emeryville last Tuesday to begin the refresh installation of twenty new designs. “They’re not that site specific” he noted describing a piece in front of the Hyatt House hotel on Shellmound. “There’s a subtle relationship, but I had to improvise because of the technicality” referring to the physical challenges and variations of this particular medium.

“There is some level of poeticness” Seyed noted while explaining the process and interpretation of the designs. He also noted the aspect of humor was an important qualifier. “That has been one of the main aspects of this project. I want them to be fun. I don’t want them to be too heavy-handed.”

Seyed and his team installed 17 new pieces and will come back at a later date to complete the remaining pieces. Seven existing designs will be rotated to new locations throughout the city. The City of Emeryville now has over forty designs in their possession in the event any new utility boxes are installed in our city.


Seyed has not kept up with the eight Emery High students that helped conceptualize the original series, but hoped they landed in a profession that fuels their creativity. “I did get an email from the mother of an artist recently who explained that these pieces inspired him to pursue being a graffiti artist”.

“I think it’s fair to say Seyed Alavi’s pieces, which won a national award, and created an identity for the City really got people going” noted Emeryville Art in Public Places Program coordinator Amber Evans in this April 2016 Interview with us. “It has been like a treasure hunt, people have described it as that. A lot of people have talked about the utility boxes as a way of knowing you’re in Emeryville.”

These twenty new designed will soon be scattered around Emeryville for residents to capture and #EvilleArt hashtag … like an Emeryville-specific game of Pokemon 😉


Locations of the 25 installations:

  1. 62nd & Hollis
  2. Christie (across from the Burger King)
  3. Hollis at 53rd St.
  4. Hollis at Stanford Ave
  5. Shellmound (Near Courtyard by Marriott Hotel)
  6. Powell at Christie
  7. Shellmound Way at Shellmound Street
  8. Shellmound Street at Christie
  9. Shellmound Street at the Marriott Hotel
  10. 40th at Hollis
  11. 40th at Emery
  12. 43rd at Adeline
  13. Hollis at Park
  14. Hollis at 59th
  15. Hollis at 64th
  16. Hollis at 65th
  17. Powell at Beaudry
  18. Powell at Hollis
  19. Powell at Watergate
  20. 40th at Adeline
  21. Horton at 40th
  22. Shellmound at Christie Ave
  23. Shellmound IFO IKEA
  24. Shellmound at Bay Street
  25. 65th at Shellmound

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


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