Latino Life: Local artist sparking interest with town's electrical boxes

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A special art movement is taking place in the Merced County community of Livingston.

Joel Aguilar is an artist who paints electrical boxes. Now his work is expanding to an even larger backdrop.

He and Livingston City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez appeared on Latino Life and spoke with host Graciela Moreno about the latest artistic creations popping up in the city.

Graciela: Joel, tell me about this. I was immediately intrigued when I heard you're an artist who paints electrical boxes. Where did this idea come from?

Joel: Yeah, well, I ended up contacting the city of Livingston about a beautification project. And I spoke to Jose, and his idea was to -- You know, he's like, "Oh, we want to do a mural, but for the first step, let's do some electrical boxes." You know, they're kind of gray or tan, and he thought -- >> Not very exciting. Yeah, not very exciting, so, you know, with a little twist, you know, add something to our community, some art, some color.

Graciela: Wonderful. I think we're looking at some of those right now. So you grew up in Livingston? You're from the community?

Joel: Yes, born and raised.

Graciela: Alright. And again, we're taking a look at some of that work. So tell us, is there any particular message behind what you draw on these?

Joel: Well, to me, it's like I want to try a little bit of political art. So I decided to portray a little bit of what's going on in my community or what's going around --

Graciela: Like nationally, internationally?

Joel: Yeah, yeah. And then some of the boxes that I do are just ideas that I have that I've always wanted to just show to the public,and this was a great opportunity.

Graciela: Wonderful. Do people stop by when you're painting these and go, "What are you doing?"

Joel: Oh, yes. Actually, I've been called -- A lot of the citizens call the police department 'cause they think that I'm not supposed to --

Graciela: Defacing public property.

Joel: Yeah. But it's funny 'cause, you know,the police are like, "No, that's what he's supposed to be doing. It's his job. "He's got our permission."

Graciela:Jose Antonio, so Joel tells us that it was -- this was somewhat of your idea, as well. Why did you want to do something like this?

Jose: Well, look, our community basically rallied around, you know, have a cultural arts district in our downtown. And so we had -- You know, it was great because the intersections crossed at the perfect time, because we wanted to commission some murals. I mean, our idea is to really have 20 to 30 murals in our downtown, because our goal is to engage our local residents but also have people from around the area stop by -- tour buses, things of that nature. And so I wanted to make sure that we mentored our own, 'cause he's from Livingston, and that we gave him a platform to be able to express, you know, his artwork. And, well, from electrical boxes, then he graduated to do a massive mural, and that's gonna be his last.

Graciela: That's what we're looking at right now. So this is a huge mural.Where is this on? Where is this painted on?
Joel: This is at the museum right across City Hall.

Graciela: Mm-hmm. That's beautiful. And so what are we looking at? What is it that you painted?

Joel: So I decided to --Well, working with the city of Livingston, I was given the opportunity to go into the museum after hours, just, you know, dive into what Livingston's all about. And then I also talked to a lot of the people in the community, and they all had different ideas -- like, "Oh, you should highlight this, that." And I came to the agreement with a lot of them that we should do kind of like a postcard, like a greeting card. They wanted one big postcard,but I thought, "Hey, maybe we should incorporate smaller ones and then in the center have, like, a Livingston greeting card."

Graciela: So everything kind of that represents that community, right, that shows the different aspects of it, maybe the different industries there. That's beautiful. That's you working on it right there. Wonderful.So you mentioned, Jose Antonio, about wanting to make this almost like a tourist destination, right?

Jose: Yeah, absolutely.

Graciela: How so?

Jose: I mean, everything. We actually -- Our council passed a downtown ordinance for murals. We changed the Parks and Recreation Commission to the Parks, Recreation & Arts Commission. We actually -- Everything that we're doing in our downtown, we're actually putting an art aspect to it. Like, for instance, the crosswalks or the roundabout that we just installed are piano keys. They're not just white lines. And we're incorporating all kinds of other stuff. So, yes, our ultimate goal is we want it to be a destination point, and we want the buses that travel along the 99 corridor that make their way over to Yosemite to stop in Livingston, to go to our downtown. And so that's why.

Graciela: That's beautiful, because --So then basically you want people to say, "Oh, you really have to see what this little town has done -- what this small city in the Valley has done with their community, with their outside areas," right?
Jose: And our murals -- our murals are not just murals. We worked real closely with the artist, and I mentioned to him that we would like to have a hidden object within -- withiN the mural and incorporate a three-dimensional aspect to the mural. And so folks will be able to see that, and they could see that in our first one.

Graciela: That's really interesting.

Joel: Yeah, there's a couple Easter eggs hidden within the mural. So, you know, you kind of have to really look, like, up closeand kind of see if you can finD them. And then just the 3-D aspect really gives it an oomph to it.

Graciela: That's awesome. So we're looking at a postcard of the dedication. Tell me about this celebration coming up -- or the ceremony coming up.

Jose: Well, we're having this dedication, one, to celebrate art, because art speaks a million languages. I mean, it doesn't matter -- We have a very diverse community. And so you put up, you know, some artwork, it speaks to everyone. And we want to celebrate the fact that we have somebody that's homegrown, that are our own. And this is the very first one of many that we would like to commission. And so anyone's invited to come down on the 30th of this month. And we'll have some refreshments afterwards. His family, everybody's engaged. Our council, our planning commission, our community is just --

Graciela: Connecting with other artists and see who else maybe wants to be a part of all of this. Wonderful, okay. What's next for you, very quickly, Joel?

Joel: I've been working -- Because of this gig -- or because of the opportunity that I've gotten with the mural projects -- I'm traditionally an oil painter. And now I'm going into the world of murals, which is interesting. It's incredible. I love -- It's more about being part of the community, and right now I'm working with schools,colleges, actually Stanislaus, in the works of perhaps doing a mural there.
Graciela: Beautiful, and you do beautiful work. So thank you very much to the two of you for being here. I'm gonna have to check out Livingston next time I'm going by there.

Mural Dedication
Thursday, January 30
620 Main Street
(209) 394-5550
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