In a city where every visual cue seems meant to sell or warn, it can be unsettling to come across a bit of infrastructure painted to resemble a giant flat-screen TV tuned to the weather and warning of wind. The message resonates, but what the hell is going on? Graffiti? Art? Banksy?
No need to call the authorities, they already know about it. In fact, they paid for it. It’s called the Zap! Project, and it started in the Winchester neighborhood in 2005 with 10 electrical utility boxes painted by local artists. In subsequent years it spread to Paradise Park and West Las Vegas, and with a recent $36,800 grant approved by Clark County, it is moving to the Cambridge area between Flamingo Road and Sahara Avenue.
Joan Lolmaugh, president of the Metro Arts Council of Southern Nevada, believes in public art as a means of unifying Las Vegas neighborhoods. “It creates a sense of place,” she says. “The artists themselves engage in a dialog with the communities to get that shared vision.” As an added benefit, Lolmaugh says, the zapped boxes tend to remain graffiti-free.
In the Cambridge area, seven local artists will be chosen to paint utility boxes. The county asks that the boxes address the past, present or future of the Las Vegas Valley. Then it’s up to the artists to decide what the boxes should look like, though they are required to solicit input, and gain approval, from area residents before commencing work. Existing Zap! artworks range from kaleidoscopic cityscapes to lifelike portraits of famous Las Vegans.
A juried competition to select artists begins in June. Artists receive a $2,000 stipend for their work and $250 for supplies. The boxes will be finished in the fall. For a map of existing projects, search Zap! at ClarkCountyNv.gov.