© Kirsten Savage

By Emily Clingman-Johnson

After reading a call for artists in the newspaper, Diane Findley decided she would give the opportunity a shot.
“I got real brave and decided to apply,” she said. “There is nothing more exciting than putting yourself out there and being selected.”
Findley was referring to an art program created by the city in 2006 that had two goals: to lessen graffiti and to provide another venue downtown for public art. It’s called Art in The Alleys – a partnership between Fort Collins Utilities’ Light and Power Department and the Art in Public Places Program. Local artists and non-profit groups were invited to paint transformer cabinets with bright, colorful murals.
“The Transformer Cabinet Mural Project is about the coolest thing I have ever been involved with,” said Findley, president of the Trimble Court Artisans Co-op. She has painted four transformer cabinets so far, and has recently applied to paint another one.
“I love Fort Collins as much as I love my paintbrush, and [I] feel great pride as I see Fort Collins unfolding as an art town,” she said.
Currently there are 90 decorated cabinets in Old Town alleys, painted by 25 artists. They are all unique, vivid and a pleasure to see against the backdrop of featureless buildings and fences.
Rolfe Bautista, a CSU student studying drawing and graphic design, has been making art for “forever,” but painting a transformer box was an opportunity to do something new.
“Working with the city gave my artwork more exposure,” Bautista said. “Running into a mural in an unappreciated alley is the last thing someone would expect, so I am exposing my work to people who never visit a gallery. Finding art in an unlikely place becomes a special experience for them.”
Bautista painted a very large cabinet behind the 7-Eleven on Remington Street.
“I really think that my art has helped to improved the alley behind 7-Eleven,” he said. “That place is just dark and gray and it is very dirty. My mural really brightens up the area and gives [it] a sense of hope.”
Besides the benefit to the city and to the residents who enjoy the art, there is an advantage for the artists as well.
“The Transformer Cabinet Mural Project is a well-recognized program in Fort Collins, and I feel that it has brought recognition and prestige to my art career,” said Gale Whitman, who has a studio in the Poudre River Arts Center. “While I was painting the cabinet, several interested on-lookers inquired about my artwork, and after its completion, I have had many leads for future projects.”
Whitman considers the project a win-win situation for everyone involved.
“My art on the transformer cabinet is a point of interest and, hopefully, delight in an otherwise unattractive alley,” she said. “I believe that people take more pride in their city when original art is valued and displayed in public.”
Lisa Cameron, a local artist here since 1992, feels it an honor to be part of Art in the Alleys.
“Working on these projects created another working experience within a well-regulated and organized city project,” Cameron said. “They are educational tools for the public. They give the public a broad look into the styles, subjects and techniques of art.”
Elizabeth Morisette has been an artist for 17 years. She has painted two transformer murals – one with her Girl Scout Troop. She likes the exposure and the feedback from her work.
“A friend of mine who lives near my cabinet told me how happy it makes him whenever he walks by my cabinet.  If it makes more people enjoy Fort Collins, it is a winning situation,” she said.
Morisette believes in the project so much that she’d like more people to enjoy the experience.
“I would like to see more artists apply,” she said. “It seems [like] the same artists do it year after year. More variety would be a great thing.”
She has a specific group in mind.
“I would especially like to see some graffiti artists take their talents and hone them to create murals and get paid for it!”
Terry McNerney’s experience has probably been the most unique, speaking of graffiti artists. One morning she found a note taped to her work in progress from some taggers who had been passing over her cabinet every night. They wanted to let her know that they liked what she was doing, but that she should hurry it along because it was becoming quite a temptation for them.
She also had a run-in with the police who were called to investigate a transient camped out in an alley.
“I had lots of gear and my clothes were full of paint,” McNerney said. She laughed. “Or maybe I need a makeover.”
For a printable map of painted transformer cabinets (a great scavenger hunt to do with kids!) and information on how to apply to paint them, visit www.fcgov.com/artspublic.