This past summer, Heritage Hilltop Middle School (formerly Jason Lee Middle School) student artists transformed Tacoma Power’s utility poles along 6th Avenue with custom artwork designed and painted by the students. With each stroke, each dip, each color, a story unfolds on the poles. Messages of love, hope, and even butterflies of change, now brighten up the busy street.
6th Avenue Business District president John Wolters wanted to define a stretch of shops and restaurants. District members thought more color would create unity and branding throughout the area and improve the neighborhood. Wolters heard of other communities decorating power poles, and the added benefits he discovered were a sell. When drivers see the colorful landscape, they may slow down naturally and increase pedestrian safety. Customer cross streets in the business district to shop and eat, allowing them an opportunity to enjoy the scenery. The board requested funding to purchase paint and supplies for the students from the City of Tacoma’s Neighborhood Innovative Grant Program. They considered tapping local artists, but John said the district is known for its love of arts and wanted to make a statement.
“Art comes from all ages; it doesn’t just come from professional artists. It comes from middle school students and everyone around,” he exclaimed. “They are so unique, and each has a child’s touch of love to them.”
When the district approached the school with the idea to have students paint the utility poles, summer school teacher Mike Devose said he needed to help make it happen.
“Its a great way to engage the community and build a connection. It’s time for everyone to listen,” says Devose. “These kids have a lot to say, but we don’t always recognize that.”
Jennifer Collins Ramos, account executive for Tacoma Power, worked with the school and the business district to create the pilot program. It’s part of the utility’s commitment to support and strengthen the local community. Tacoma Power crews offered advice on what kind of treatment was on the poles to aid in researching the type of paint needed to prep them for the 30 student artists. She stated this one of those dream projects that unites and excites everyone.
“We work hard at being a community partner, and when we do get the opportunity to do something fun like this, we jump on it. If it helps with vandalism and deters tagging, it’s a win-win,” she added. “I hope they see the love and effort these kids have for their community.”
Brian Kenney, the owner of Hi-Voltage Records in the area, agrees.
“I love it. It brings life, color, and art to the avenue. Great to see the kids out painting the poles.”
If the pilot program is successful, other Tacoma Business Districts might apply for the grant to paint utility poles in their jurisdiction.