If I say to you, “There is an art movement in National City!” you might respond, “Say whaa?” Thanks to Paul Ecdao, co-owner and curator of Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla, both National City artists and San Diego county artists are beautifying the drab, soulless utility boxes of their neighborhoods.
From 2010-2014, Ecdao was a member of the National City Public art committee. For the last two years, he has maintained those relationships, and wanted to do something to beautify the community. Born in National City, Ecdao states, “I feel like it has a negative image to some people. Is it unsafe? But it’s not as bad as it used to be, and it just needs some tender loving care. This area has potential, and you have to start somewhere.”
Ecdao is curating the utility boxes surrounding E. Eighth Street and Plaza Boulevard, from Interstate 5 up to Highland Avenue. All artists are from San Diego County, with 50 percent from National City, and Ecdao is looking and hoping for that second percentage to increase. While that number builds, Ecdao has utilized the network of artists from Thumbprint, which will celebrate its seventh anniversary in September.
So far, around 15 boxes are completed, but Ecdao states, “I want to keep it going and I’m not setting limits on how far this can go.” Ecdao, along with the artists, donate their talents and time for free, born from a passion to spread art into unexpected places and allow everyone to have access. The lives they will touch, the children who will see these works, the smiles they will bring, is a priceless gift.
As an artist himself, Ecdao understands the impact these boxes can have. His stencil artwork has landed on numerous boxes with the Southeastern Economic Development Corporation, the utility boxes in North Park, and others. Ultimately, those projects became the wellspring for the National City initiative. Ecdao thanks National City Council Member Mona Rios and Brad Raulston, Executive Director of Planning and Community Development in providing him the opportunity to start the project and see his vision come to life.
If you are a San Diego artist interested in becoming a part of the National City movement, you can reach out to Ecdao through the National City Utility Box Project website. Generally artists are given about two weeks to complete their work.
So here is your National City art adventure itinerary, straight from Ecdao himself: Have lunch at Big Ben’s market or Zarlito’s, walk around and look at all of the different utility boxes, stroll around Brick Row, then have dessert at Neiderfrank’s, an historical ice cream shop from 1948, and enjoy incredible ice cream flavors like avocado/pistachio, Thai tea, or macadamia nut toffee, made the old fashioned way.
Stay tuned for an upcoming Art Walk plotting all of the locations and artists. For more information, visit nationalcityutilityboxproject.com and follow their progress on Instagram at @nationalcityutilityboxproject.
Laurie Delk is an avid art historian, holding a master’s degree in Art History, with concentrations in the Modern and Postmodern movements. She has taught classes at Tulane University, and has been published with several art publications including Sculpture Magazine and New Orleans Art Review. Send ideas for art stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.