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Could Public Art on Utility Boxes Displace Communication?

There will be important functions in public space that are not always “art” whose value is not in proportion to their prettiness.
August 21, 2017, 9am PDT | Keli_NHI
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Utility Box Art
William Murphy

Rainey Knudson wants people to stop putting art on utility boxes. “In Houston, the underlying idea for our local box-painting effort is that it ‘converts blight into art by painting the blank canvases around the city,'” she wrote on Glasstire last week. "What’s not to love? Well for starters, when have you ever looked at a blank electrical box on the street and thought, ‘Gee, I wish someone with moderate artistic skills would paint a toucan on that?'"

Knudson’s critiques are a bit deeper than just complaining about the quality of the art work. First, she argues that we should let urban infrastructure blend into the background. ("Consider how, undecorated, these things disappear into the urban landscape. They aren’t 'blight'—certainly not in the way that litter or abandoned buildings are. Electrical boxes are something you probably never noticed, until your local municipality started decorating them.")

But the far more compelling argument is that it’s a way of spending public art money that is extremely limiting for artists. ("I think this bizarre trend has less to do with beautification than it does with cities wanting to take control of street art, to make it sanctioned, palatable, institutional, and toothless.")

Instead, Knudson proposes extremely open-ended public art proposals to be judged entirely on merit. I'd be interested to hear local officials' take on Knudson’s proposal.

However, it was a seemingly small comment Matthew Sekeletron—an artist from Troy, New York—made when he shared the article that has really stuck with me. Utility boxes are a common place to post flyers, and the poster suspected this was in part a sneaky way to combat that.Censhorthip. 

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Published on Friday, August 18, 2017 in Shelterforce/Rooflines
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