Words by Tess Becker
Symbols and graffiti populate most cities, on the backs of buildings, train cars, and city infrastructure. Usually, this stuff is covered up – but elementary school teacher and artist LeoAngelo Lacuna Reyes wanted to do something a little different in San Diego.
More power lines are being buried and large green utility boxes pop up in their place. Those boxes are perfect spots for would-be taggers to leave their mark, which LeoAngelo didn’t like.
“I do view graffiti as art, but tagging is just doodling,” he said. “Some people think of it as art, but it can really blight up a neighborhood. Kids with a lot of angst see a big electrical box, and it’s an inviting surface for them to deface.”
So LeoAngelo saw an opportunity to do something for his community, a neighborhood in San Diego named Mira Mesa. Inspired by a utility box completely painted over with art in 2010, he asked the Mira Mesa Town Council to give him permission to paint over some of the tagged boxes.
The theory was that with a little bit of upkeep, the painted utility boxes could deter would-be taggers since the boxes were already spots for art. His first project was a graffiti-covered box across the street from a library that turned into a colorful four-sided bookcase. That box hasn’t been touched in over 12 years.
Since then he has taken on a lot more projects, painting over 40 utility boxes, and even inspiring some of his students to paint community murals. The art has become something that the community takes pride in.
“This is something any town can do with a little paint and some community involvement,” Reyes said. “Something like a giant goldfish in a public space brings new life and energy to a tired neighborhood.”