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City pilot program aims to increase vibrancy and decrease tagging

If you have been lucky enough to travel around this country chances are you’ve stumbled upon a utility box that was artfully designed and you thought, “Why don’t we do that in Madison?” Former Common Council Member Eve Galanter, took that thought a step further and lobbied the City to make a similar program happen here. "Just because those ubiquitous green and gray utility boxes are essential doesn't mean they have to be boring and ugly intrusions onto our streets and terraces," she said.

Cities around the country have tried to make their utility boxes more attractive in the hope that they are less likely targets for vandalism and tagging. Now Madison is piloting a program to test the theory that utility boxes clad with artist designed durable vinyl designs will enhance our public spaces and deter defacement of City owned utility boxes.

Four boxes around the Capitol Square along Pinckney Street are wrapped with aerial images of Madison taken by kite photographer Craig Wilson. The artist was selected from his participation in ARTspace, a city-run exhibition program. “Much like the Poetry in Sidewalks project of the Madison Arts Commission, the artist designed utility box program has the potential to make a great visual impact and take these ordinary objects of urban infrastructure and transform them into something fun and unique.” stated Barb Schrank, chair of the Madison Arts Commission, which unanimously voted to support the Art Box pilot program at their June 2016 meeting.

Arts Program Administrator, Karin Wolf, said the project was collaboratively managed with City Planner, Rebecca Cnare, who, worked with many other City staff to kick start the pilot program. Cnare and Wolf will monitor the four trial pieces and over the next year to see how the material holds up and what the public response to this initiative is.

If the pilot project is a success and the City decides to expand the program in future years, an open call for artists will be issued. Thus even 2-D artists will be able to participate in the City’s public art program, and gain exposure to new audiences who might not otherwise see the work in galleries and museums.

When asked what she thought about the first boxes, Galanter remarked, “I'm delighted that the City is now piloting this project and I hope that if the concept proves successful that we can engage community groups and schools in helping to design these small public art projects in their neighborhoods." 

Wolf said she hopes the artwork, which was installed by Advertising Creations last week, will last longer than a Blink temporary art project, but will affect people in a similar way, “surprising visitors and residents with beauty amidst Madison’s urban canvas.”