The newest public art project in Spartanburg seeks to give the county’s seven colleges more of a presence downtown.
Electric Art, an effort by Hub-Bub and the College Town consortium, features colorful vinyl coverings on nine utility boxes across the city. Each of the county’s seven colleges and College Town are featured on boxes, and the work of Roderice Cardell, also known as the Maddd Artist, is in front of the Spartanburg County Headquarters Library.
“We wanted to do something arts-based that showcased the colleges in downtown Spartanburg,” said Naomi Sargent, director of College Town. “We wanted to give students a sense of ownership in downtown.”
Sam Veremchuck, a Wofford College graduate and outreach administrator at the Chapman Cultural Center, surveyed students at several of the county’s colleges to learn what icons should be included with each college’s colors and design. He worked with local artists Russell Bannan and Eli Blasko to design each college’s vinyl pieces.
That led to lesser-known things being included on the vinyl box covers — like strawberries and cream, a Converse College tradition dating back to the college’s beginning, being included on its box, just in front of Groucho’s at Church and Main.
“It was initially about elevating the ordinary, but there was the dual focus about partnering with College Town,” said Eric Kocher, director of Hub-Bub, which now falls under the Chapman Cultural Center umbrella. “What we wanted to do was represent students’ identity.”
Monday afternoon, the boxes featuring Converse, the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, Spartanburg Methodist College and College Town were all complete. Boxes for the University of South Carolina Upstate, Wofford, Sherman College of Chiropractic and Spartanburg Community College were left to finish.
Kocher said the most difficult part of the project was getting approval for the designs from the S.C. Department of Transportation. SCDOT owns the utility boxes, so any changes have to receive approval in Columbia, he said.
The newly redesigned boxes add to the ongoing gradual facelift across downtown.
“Even with the hanging baskets, it changes the aesthetic of the city as you walk through,” Sargent said. “Transforming that into something positive to look at can definitely change your feelings as you’re downtown.”
Electric Art started because it would add more art to structures that were either meant to be ignored or had been overrun with graffiti, scratches and faded stickers, Kocher said.
“There’s no point at which we reach capacity for public art,” Kocher said. “There’s no point that we say, ‘And now, we have enough.’ Public art is about the continuing transformation of our community. I think these boxes right now are a moment to signal some of that.”
By Zach Fox