They’re commonplace in cities large and small: large, drab metal boxes on street corners and in front of businesses, usually painted industrial green or grey. But San Jose, more known for tech innovation as the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” is taking a novel approach to beautifying it’s city streets with decorative “art boxes.”

Through the Art Box Project, local artists contribute to the cityscape with decorative paintings on the utility boxes. At the entrance to Japantown, there’s an origami themed art box, or on 17th street at Julian street, passerbys see an art box of a woman with birds in her hair .

There are currently 20 art boxes distributed throughout San Jose and there are plans to complete 10 more in the near future.

“The goal is to basically get art into the neighborhoods and bring community and local artists together and employ local artists,” said Tina Morrill, who founded the project in San Jose in 2011. “It also reduces tagging and graffiti, or at least that’s been found in a couple of other cities. It’s really simple. Put art into the community, beautify it, and bring communities and artists together.”

Morrill was inspired to bring this project to San Jose when she saw photos taken by Metro Newspaper columnist Gary Singh of a similar project in Edmonton, Alberta (full disclosure: is affiliated with Metro Newspaper). Inspired and determined, Morrill believed she could bring the project to San Jose, despite doubt from Singh.

“I did not think that this was going to happen at all,” Singh said. “This is done in cities all over the world, its nothing new but I honestly thought that no way in my life of living here would this ever be possible.”

Later, Morrill made contact with Cherri Lakey, who co-owns Anno Domini with partner Brian Eder, and together they combined Morrill’s connection with the community and Lakey’s connection to local San Jose artists to bring this project to life.

“She does her thing; I do my thing,” Lakey said. “We’re very harmonious on what the true agenda is and it’s rare when you have two different people with different backgrounds working towards the same thing and your actually doing it and its so easy. The intention is what really matters.”

So far, every art box put into the neighborhoods has received positive responses in different ways.

“The community really starts taking ownership of it,” Morrill said. “A lot of times they want the artist to incorporate history or some kind of neighborhood feel. So, they put them in newsletters and there was an award ceremony in Berryessa. They gave me a plaque, Cherri a plaque and the artist a plaque, so it depends on the neighborhood.”

For a self-guided map tour, visit the Art Box Project Google Maps page.