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Midtown Cleveland partners with Asian artists to hide utility boxes with cultural art

Posted at 8:01 AM, Nov 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-07 08:25:56-05

CLEVELAND — Right before the temperatures dropped too low, Midtown Cleveland installed four pieces of artwork covering up otherwise blank utility boxes at the corners of Payne Avenue and East 30th, 33rd, 36th, and 40th Streets.

When Jordan Wong was growing up, he looked hard for art that could tie him back to his Asian culture.

Wong's work can be seen on the back of the building REBol is in on Public Square.

Even when he found some, it was on TV or in comic books.

"It was very much removed," said Wong. "It wasn't necessarily where I was at locally."

That's why he's hoping one of his latest projects, designing art that will cover a utility box at the corner of Payne Avenue and East 30th Street, will be an inspiration for the next generation of Asian artists in Cleveland.

Utility boxes up and down Payne Avenue will look drastically different once the wraps are installed.

"It's and honor," said Wong, who has also designed artwork displayed in Public Square, facing Tower City, on the back of the building that houses REBol. "Imagery and ideas found within Asian culture, I think people are going to be able to connect to more immediately than art that's created outside of that context."

"Using artwork to boost up the town is a really exciting thing for me," said artist Mitzie Lai.

Lai shows News 5 how she designed her piece of artwork to avoid parts of the box that would hide the details of her piece.

Lai's fish design is a cultural sign of prosperity for anyone who walks by the corner of Payne Avenue and 33rd Street.

"I think public art always makes a place better," said artist Julia Kuo, who designed the art that will cover a utility box on at the corner of Payne Avenue and East 40th Street.

Kuo's design will use the black background of the building to stand out in a positive way, instead of the brown utility box that her design will soon cover.

Kuo's piece will turn the utility box at the corner of Payne Avenue and East 40th Street into a memory from her own experiences where a woman swims and kayaks while bio-luminescent organisms light up the water around her.

"It's one thing for Asian people to see themselves represented here, but it's another thing for them to see themselves doing something that's adventurous, that's exciting or even magical," said Kuo.

A similar project was already completed on Euclid Avenue, covering similar utility boxes with science-themed wraps.

"We really saw these utility boxes as just a simple way to brighten up the corridor," said MidTown Cleveland Director of Planning and Placemaking Joyce Huang.

The designs make sure the artists working on these designs reflected the neighborhood where they'd be installed, creating a genuine connection for the people who live nearby and the people who visit.

The wrap designs will complement the AsiaTown signs that already sit above streetsigns in the district.

"Doing these art boxes really creates more of a sense of place and belonging so people feel like, 'Oh, there's an identity to this place," said Huang.

The fourth piece along Payne was created by Kathleen Marcotte, depicting a mythological goddess of Mt. Fuji, believed to keep the volcano from erupting.

You can see Jordan Wong's work here.

You can see Mitzie Lai's work here.

You can see Julia Kuo's work here.

You can see Kathleen Marcotte's work here.

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.