City Of Issaquah Wins SCI Award for Innovation in Arts and Culture

Two people standing in front of utility box wrapped with laminate decal displaying a painting

Sister Cities International’s mission is the belief that cooperation across borders is more effective when we engage communities “one individual at a time.” In this spirit, the City of Issaquah Sister Cities Commission launched a unique cultural project which introduces the works of artists from Issaquah’s Sister Cities to residents by wrapping electrical utility boxes in prints of the paintings. This innovative project enables every resident, whether stuck in traffic or crossing the street, to engage with their Sister Cities locally.

Story Submitted by City of Issaquah Sister Cities Commission 

Utility box wrapped with laminate decal displaying a painting
Artwork by Moroccan Artist Aziz Amrani, at the Intersection of 7th & Gilman. Title: Composition. Description: The painting features musical souls manifesting themselves and serving as an imprint on our energies, our colors, our emotions.

In the summer of 2018, the City of Issaquah won the Sister Cities International 2018 Innovation Award for Arts and Culture for a city with a population size of 25,000 – 100,000. The awards competition, which is open to over 500 sister city programs nationwide, recognizes the accomplishments of outstanding Sister City programs that promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation.

The City of Issaquah’s Utility Wrap Program, which launched in 2017, includes original artwork from Sister City artists in Chefchaouen, Morocco and Sunndal, Norway. The transformation of the utility boxes from function to finesse changed the cultural landscape of the community while reinforcing the cultural exchange with each Sister City.

“We value the 10-year relationship the City has with Chefchaouen, Morocco as well as the newly re-kindled relationship with Sunndal, Norway. This cross-cultural project has increased the knowledge and awareness of our Sister Cities within our community,” said Mary Lou Pauly, Mayor of Issaquah. “By wrapping utility boxes with art, we’ve turned the ordinary into extraordinary, beautified an intersection, and created conversation within our community.”

The utility wrap program has significant impact on the community as well. Pedestrians and drivers enjoy these treasures daily, Issaquah’s outdoor art collection has grown, and the wraps beautify the community landscape. Additionally, over 150,000 people visit the art as part of the community’s annual Salmon Days Festival.

“We all stand to learn from these superstar Sister City programs as they impact their communities across a broad range of sectors that include business entrepreneurship, youth leadership, and arts and culture,” said Roger-Mark De Souza, Sister Cities International’s President & CEO, in reference to the Annual Awards program winners. “These individuals and local organizations inspire us to be better citizens as their work exemplifies President Eisenhower’s vision of engaged international citizen diplomats. They create beneficial connections and lasting relationships which will help their communities today and for years to come.”

Two people standing in front of utility box wrapped with laminate decal displaying a painting
Robin Kelley, Sister Cities Commission Chair (L) Bergljot Hals. Norwegian Artist (R). Utility wrap at the Intersection of 2nd and Sunset. Title: Journey. Description: The artist initially set out to make imprints from the wood of an old barn near her home, hoping to preserve its memory before it was demolished to make way for new development. She laid paper over the barn’s woodwork and hatched the sheets with graphite lead, then studied the imprint’s rings, cracks and hammer strokes, as persons, creatures and shapes appeared. She then worked to bring these new patterns forward with a lead-pencil, forging the truth of the wood with the fantasy of her imagination and the inspiration of Norwegian folklore.

Contact City of Issaquah Sister Cities Commission:

Mary Harris: [email protected]