Thinking (and painting) outside the box

Sarah Billingsley with her painted SN&R newsstand
Sarah Billingsley shows off the Sacramento News & Review “art rack” she painted in 2007. (Jenni Murphy)

A colorful, floral-painted newspaper box is one of the first things to welcome students to campus near the bus stop on State University Drive. And while thousands walk past the box every day, few know the story behind it.

In 2007, as city officials discussed removing oft-vandalized sidewalk news boxes altogether, the Sacramento News & Review launched the SN&R Newsstand Art Project. Under the banner of “making news beautiful,” the local paper tapped dozens of artists to turn newsstands into “art racks” with the dual purpose of dissuading vandals and persuading the city to keep newsstands on Sacramento sidewalks.

One of the very first painters? Sacramento State’s own Sarah Billingsley (’13, M.A. Communications), a proud alumna and current marketing communications director for the College of Continuing Education. She worked at SN&R with husband, Michael, who conceived and launched the project, before they both came to Sacramento State, where they earned their master’s degrees.

“I took a big leap of faith and left my old career and came back to college,” Billingsley says, “and there was my art box that I drove by every day.”

For the design, Billingsley found inspiration in a poem about spring written by her father, who had passed away earlier that year. Her painting brought to life her father’s words, some of which were included in SN&R’s advertisement for the project:

“There is awareness of life now, and purpose. In the arms of Spring is perfection and joy.”

Billingsley’s box art helped kick off a project that would eventually lead to a wave of new public artworks to transform boring into beautiful. (The Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission’s Capitol Box Art Project is one of the most recent examples.) And while Billingsley may not self-identify as an artist, her art has endured for nearly a decade, a legacy that goes far beyond the campus.

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