LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The colors, vibrant and electric, jump at your eyes. Think kids’ cartoons dancing across a big-screen TV.
“That’s the idea,” says Jorge Betancourt-Polanco, one of several artists up before the sun this summer decorating utility cabinets at several Las Vegas intersections. “The most fun we have in life is when we are children. So I really like to reach people through those memories of childhood.”
Nearly 250 of the cabinets that house controls for water, electricity and traffic are being colorfully coated by 25 artists through the AMP Utility Cabinet Painting Program, a City of Las Vegas beautification effort that began in 2017.
The goal is to add a bit of pizzazz to the drab cabinets on street corners. To do that, Betancourt-Polanco, 57, a native of Mexico who has made Las Vegas his home for some 20 years, leans on childhood memories.
On a pre-dawn morning in late June, he’s putting clouds and bumblebee-like flying creatures with big eyes and round shapes on boxes on the corner of Elkhorn Road and Buffalo Drive in the city’s northwest corner.
Residents walking to please their pets or trying to melt away pounds stop and smile. One asks Betancourt-Polanco if he could maybe paint a box or two in his gated neighborhood. Betancourt-Polanco graciously declines. But the offer validates the artistry.
A finished utility box by Las Vegas artist Brian Martinez.
“You want a response, respect for the work,” he says.
Brian Martinez, 25, agrees. He’s brightening boxes in the center of the city. Like Betancourt-Polanco, he’s using garish colors but leaning more on the desert landscape.
Martinez says many people who notice the boxes often are driving by, so it’s a glimpse, a glance, to grab their attention.
“You want to present a visual snack,” Martinez says. “It’s not like having a painting in a gallery. “Not too many people seeing these boxes can spend a long period of time to understand the piece.”
For Martinez, who attended the College of Southern Nevada and UNLV after graduating from Las Vegas High School, the eye-catching attempts are made with large cactus plants and “citrusy colors.”
Whatever the device or tool, the finished cabinets are convincing. “Nice. Very nice,” says a resident passing as Betancourt-Polanco works his brush on the Elkhorn-Buffalo cabinets.
Since 2005, Las Vegas has diverted 1% of the city’s capital improvement budget into an arts fund that has paid for many commissioned projects, including the cabinet program. Cabinets previously were painted on stretches of Maryland Parkway and in the Las Vegas Medical District and Sun City Summerlin.
For the city, it’s beautification. For the artist, it’s that and a little bit more.
As Betencourt-Polanco relates what people tell him about his cabinets: “I really like to hear when people they say, ‘you know, every time I pass here I smile.’ ”