Over the past few weeks, my daily commute down Guadalupe Street — already a drag, pun intended — has been made worse by a new traffic pattern that turns the already jammed intersection at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into a virtual standstill. And despite driving this every day, I inevitably forget about this nightmare until just a few blocks before, giving me no option but to sit and wait and stare at the giant Kendra Scott billboard and brightly lit Papa John's sign flashing the day's deals.
This morning, sitting at the light, facing southbound toward downtown, I noticed a traffic signal cabinet, one of those features of urban living that normally just blends into the landscape. On it were two fists clasped together in unity — one brown, one white — below a banner that read, "Keep Austin."
The mural was created by Emily Ding as part of the City of Austin's new Artbox Program. The artboxes — four in all — are located around the city, and feature four local artists with very different artistic styles.
“Streets are not just spaces we travel through, but places woven into the fabric of communities,” says Christina Willingham, Austin Transportation’s Smart Mobility Division Manager, in a release unveiling the murals. “A neighborhood can express its special character for others to see, learn and enjoy at the street level, whether by foot, bike, bus, or car.
To launch the initiative, the city partnered with Houston's UP Art Studio to bring their mini mural project to the Capital City. The project launched in December 2018, and four intersections across Austin were selected as the makeshift canvases:
- Rundberg Lane at Little Walnut Creek Library, by Bydee
- Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Guadalupe Street, by Emily Ding
- East Stassney Lane and Jacaranda Drive, by Niz
- Arroyo Seco and West Koenig Lane, by Helena Martin
To begin, each artist shared their vision for each lightbox, a vision that varied drastically from community to community. Neighbors were then asked to vote on their favorite, and the final four were chosen. On June 10, the four murals were officially unveiled, giving Austinites an opportunity to view these miniature masterpieces in person.
Although the project began with the initial four, the city is actively looking for people and organizations to sponsor additional traffic lightboxes across town. According to city officials, more than 200 boxes are available, giving thousands of other Austinites the possibility of a more beautiful commute.