Artists Begin Painting Springfield Utility Boxes

May 23, 2016

Artist Lorraine MacAlpine stands next to the utility box she plans to cover with sunflowers.
Credit WAMC

A public art and beautification project began Monday in Springfield, Massachusetts.

 Professional artist Lorraine MacAlpine is painting sunflowers on an unlikely canvas: a drab grey utility box on a bustling corner at Main Street and Boland Way.

" So, it is going to be very bright and very lively and hopefully it is really going to pop on this corner," she said as she drew outlines on the box of the flowers she plans to paint .

This week MacAlpine and other artists will create murals on 18 utility boxes in Springfield’s Central Cultural District, which encompasses an area of the metro center that is home to museums, performance venues, and art galleries.

She said she loves doing public art projects, like the one a few years ago where MacAlpine and others painted large fiberglass basketball sneakers that were placed at various locations downtown.

" That sneaker has been there for like five years, and people come every year and step on it and take pictures.  They absolutely love it.  It makes people feel good in the community," she said.

 Last summer, artists painted two utility boxes in a downtown park. Morgan Drewniany, executive director of the cultural district said the public response was so positive it was decided to paint more.

" We never do art just for art. It is  to get people walking and talking and feeling better about being in Springfield," she said.

Thirty-two artists submitted bids and a judging committee of cultural district members chose designs based on creativity and innovative use of the utility box.

" One of the designs I am excited to see is a mural of cats doing Springfield firsts,which should be exciting," said Drewniany. " The theme of this is 'unexpected beauty,' so we were looking for things you would not expect to see in the downtown."

The city, which owns the boxes that house controls for traffic signals and streetlights, gave permission to have them used for public art.  The artists are using an acrylic paint and a weather-seal that should keep the designs on the boxes for at least five years.

The murals should be finished, weather permitting, by the end of the week.

" People are absolutely invited to come down and watch artists work throughout the week," said Drewniany, adding the schedule can be found on the website of the cultural district.

Springfield’s Central Cultural District was formally designated by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2014.  Drewniany said 20 additional members have joined the organization in the last year.

She said the cultural district is working on creating an art walk that would turn spaces such as office lobbies, storefronts, and community rooms into art galleries.