Tammy Ortegon has been drawing Prince's face since high school — on notebooks, jean jackets, even a friend's bedroom wall.
"I've always been inspired by him," said Ortegon, a Minneapolis-based folk artist. "When I do pictures of other people now, my family jokes that they still look like Prince."
Thanks to artists like Ortegon, the area near Prince's old junior high and high school is about to get a colorful jolt of funk and flamboyance. Artwork paying tribute to the rock star's music and legacy will soon adorn six utility boxes in the Central neighborhood.
Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO) issued the call for public art earlier this summer and selected six pieces designed by four local artists, which will be installed by early October. The group is awaiting final approval from the city before it wraps vinyl images of the designs around utility boxes lining 4th and Park avenues.
"We wanted to focus on those streets in particular because they had significance when Prince was growing up and the schools he went to," said Tina Burnside, CANDO board member.
The neighborhood group applied to revamp the boxes through the city's artist-designed utility box program. Run by the Public Works and Community Planning and Economic Development departments, the program began in 2007 as a way to curb graffiti tagging on the drab exteriors of utility boxes. City-owned boxes typically house a nest of wires and controls that operate traffic signals.
More than 300 boxes have since been beautified across the city.
The program has seen a recent spike in interest — with three times as many boxes being decorated this year — but CANDO's batch will be the first to pay homage to Prince, said Mary Altman, the city's public arts administrator. Since the musician's death in April, artistic tributes have sprouted up across the metro area, giving public spaces a princely flair.
When Ortegon heard about the project in the Central neighborhood, she got to work perfecting two pieces to submit. Both were selected. One draws inspiration from the psychedelic single "Raspberry Beret" and depicts the alluring figure from the song, with Prince watching in the background.
"I wanted to show this beautiful, strong woman," Ortegon said.
Submissions came from both seasoned and fledging creative types. Anthony Johnson is new to art but grew up in the Central neighborhood. He listened to Prince music on an endless loop while he layered dark purples, blues and gold hues to his colored-pencil piece.
"I want [the art] to start a dialogue about Prince … about all the things he did in his music and life," Johnson said.