New outlet for artists helps fight vandalism

Calgary artists are choosing brushes as their weapon of choice to help the city fight off public vandalism.

The painted utility box program, in which artists are commissioned to paint public art pieces on local utility boxes located throughout the city, is run by the city to discourage vandalism.

With the newly painted boxes, there has been a sharp decrease in graffiti on city-owned power and utility boxes.

Art Instead of Graffiti

Peter Bushe, a road sign and streetlight project specialist, is in charge of the program and helps make things as simple as possible for the commissioned artists. Bushe said that since 2010, there have been almost 900 boxes painted, with 41 being done this year alone.
A painted box can cost anywhere from $700 to $1,100, which includes an artist fee and between $400 and $700 to prep the box and provide special paint for each artist.

While this does come from the city budget, it comes from the money that they would have to use to clean off graffiti, Bushe said.

Bushe said that since the introduction of the program, the city has seen at at least 91 per cent reduction of vandalism for the utility boxes.

During this time, only two or three boxes have been tagged, which Bushe said is a great victory. Meanwhile, Bushe said he also shares a similar motive as the artists.

“We want to get rid of vandalism and graffiti, but also we are trying to inject a little more art into Calgary.”

Design one

However, participants have come to see the boxes as a way to bring life to the city and a way to thank the Calgary community for having their art displayed all over the city.

Wil Yee, who has done six boxes for the program, said that it was an interesting way of giving back to the community.

“Not everyone wants to go to an art gallery. It’s a great way to share it while participating in your city.” Yee’s first box, located on 16th Avenue and Center A Street N.E., displays two colourful Chinese New Year dragons.

Yee said that it was a very personal box for him to complete and an honour to do for One of the many colourful Dino Sound boxes from Bresola.

Photo courtesy of Emma Bresola
the Chinese community. Playful Designs

Emma Bresola, an Italian immigrant and artist, has done four boxes through the program.

In an email interview, Bresola, who has been living here since June 2010, said that she was looking for local art opportunities and found the application online.

Bresola said that she has received much public praise when doing her boxes. Every artist has a signature style and Bresola is no exception. She calls her designs Dino Sounds.

Her boxes are playful and childlike, featuring parading dinosaurs playing instruments, wearing roller skates and driving cars. It is the perfect scene of a child’s mind, even down to the bright colours used to exaggerate the playful nature of her pieces.

“People were grateful for what I was doing for the city. Most of them told me that was an awesome, great, joyful and ironic job,” she said. “Somebody said my work makes people smile, and this comment made me really laugh: ‘Did you paint this so funny? I want to be like you when I grow up!’ and he was not a child.”

Multi-purpose Art

While many artists said they had fun doing the boxes, they were all aware and even happy to help stop vandalism in the Calgary community.

Yee said that the program is doing a fantastic job and that it is a bonus that it helps deter vandalism.

“We understand that was the point of the program but it works hand in hand,” he said. “We are praised for bringing art to the community but there are many purposes of art.”

Bresola said that the idea of using art to deter vandalism was an enjoyable and fun way to bring awareness of the issue. “Using art to deter vandalism is a demonstration that we should not underestimate the worth and power of art. Maybe even vandals smile when they see colorful dinosaurs around Calgary instead of anonymous grey boxes.”

vpizarro@cjournal.ca