Community Engagement

SMUD partners on project to wrap artistic designs around transformer boxes

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) partnered with Sunrise Marketplace Business Improvement District (SMP) to wrap more than 20 SMUD transformer boxes with nearly 50 pieces of art throughout Sacramento’s business district.

“MasterPieces in the MarketPlace” utilizes SMUD’s Transformer Box Wrap Program, which is offered to qualifying SMUD commercial customers to help revitalize their communities by enhancing the aesthetic of their environment while also preventing graffiti.

Transformer boxes are the green utility boxes that can be found along sidewalks, in courtyards, and on business properties. They house high-voltage equipment for underground electrical service, taking the higher voltage from SMUD’s distribution system and transforming it to lower voltages appropriate for residential and commercial use.

The “MasterPieces in the MarketPlace” boxes can be seen featuring a variety of renowned art from 19th century Japanese Woodblock art, Impressionism and abstract art, and showcases famous artists such as Van Gogh, Degas and Renoir, as well as local muralists.

SMUD’s program has two options for eligible applicants.  There are 20 pre-approved designs to choose from, or an applicant can choose to submit a custom design for consideration. Approved designs can range from landscapes and local scenery, to unique perspectives, to textures and patterns. SMUD works with each local agency to determine if the requested art is appropriate for that particular location.

Vinyl wraps will be used for the program because they follow utility industry best practices. Frankie McDermott, SMUD’s Chief Energy Delivery Officer stated, “About 8 years ago SMUD partnered with the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission on a painted box pilot project which is still installed in Downtown Sacramento. Today, the improvements to wrap technology have made it a better alternative to paint. The typical wrap installation takes just hours, not days as it would with a commissioned artist on site. Additionally, replacement of a damaged section can be reprinted rather than having to bring the commissioned artist come back to repaint on site.”

Vinyl has a life expectancy of five or more years and comes with a paint-repelling laminate which will further reduce the effects of any graffiti.

The community’s reaction to the box wraps has exceeded SMUD’s expectations. “When developing this program, we anticipated more single applicants for one transformer on the owner’s property, yet we have seen more resulting installations from applicants with multiple units (3-20 wraps) within a community or business district.,” said McDermott.

Although the Sacramento region is no stranger to art on utility boxes, SMP will be the first to develop a themed art installation at community scale. Each box will include a label with the name of the artist, art and date. A QR code on the label will direct viewers to a web page with more information on the art and artist, and a link to the museum where the art is displayed. Because these boxes house electrical equipment, all the safety warning stickers and identifying markings will remain visible in their designated locations.

The Transformer Box Wrap Program is open to business associations, individual businesses, commercial property owners and managers, homeowners’ associations (for transformer boxes in common areas only), public agencies and community arts councils and commissions.

Prior to COVID-19 there were more than 30 installations scheduled, 25 of which were completed recently, with others on hold for the time being.

Currently, SMUD does not have plans for a residential program. However, they are collecting contact information for interested residential customers, should the program expand in the future.

Images of the transformer box wraps can be found here and here.