EPB ArtSpark contest winners put new spin on public art to be featured on downtown utility boxes

Photo by Mark Kennedy/ Amilcar Vargas-Lucas, of the Howard School, shows off his winning artwork.

Coming to a utility box near you: original art.

In a twist on Chattanooga's growing public art movement, EPB this week announced the winners in its second annual "ArtSpark Goes to School" competition.

Five Hamilton County high school students have been named winners of the contest and will have their artwork displayed this spring on EPB utility boxes around downtown Chattanooga.

Suddenly, those EPB cuboids will come alive with images of honeybees and fish and smartphones and geometric patterns. The artwork will be printed on vinyl wraps that will stay in place on the utility boxes for at least a year, according to EPB.

Amilcar Vargas-Lucas, a 19-year-old senior at the The Howard School, was among the winners and will have his artwork adapted as a wrap for an EPB utility box in Coolidge Park on the North Shore. Other students' artwork will be displayed downtown and on the Southside.

Vargas-Lucas, who is originally from Guatemala, was eager to compete in the contest, according to his art teacher, Sheri Heinz.

"I told him he could take home whatever he needed, and he grabbed some acrylic paint. He did it all over fall break," Heinz said.

Vargas-Lucas' winning artwork features a series of stylized squares with the corporate logos of several well-known tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

"Each of these images helped me know more about technology," Vargas-Lucas explained. "I use Facebook and Messenger to communicate. I use YouTube to find things that interest me. Apple represents the iPhone."

The theme of the contest this year was "Anything is Possible" with technology.

Other 2020 ArtSpark Goes to School winners announced Wednesday night at a ceremony at the Challenger Center at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are Kemberly Delgadillo and Lilian "Lili" Michel from Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts; and Yisel Garcia and Addison Hamilton from Hixson High School.

The Challenger Center will host a gallery for some of the student artwork submitted to the contest. A total of 292 high school art students were enlisted this year for the contest, which is also designed to teach teens about EPB's smart grid.

In addition to the education component, the program gives students a highly visible outlet for their art, according to Elizabeth Hammitt, director of environmental stewardship and community at EPB.

"We wanted to mimic what it would be like to be a professional artist being commissioned for a piece of artwork," Hammitt said.

Judging was done by a committee composed of representatives of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Southeast Center for Education in the Arts, Hamilton County Schools, River City Company, Public Art Chattanooga and ArtsBuild.

photo Mark Kennedy / Staff file photo

To suggest a human interest story, contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.