Splashes of color, creativity add flair to utility boxes

A pilot program launched this week by the city will add some color to a handful of the ubiquitous utility boxes that dot the city from stem to stern. The PaintBox project is starting with 13 boxes citywide, including ones in Mattapan Square, Neponset Avenue, Uphams Corner and Codman Square.

On Tuesday, freelance artist Thomas Burns was nearly finished with his box at the corner of Fairway Street and Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan Square. The 35 year-old Dorchester resident took inspriration from his neighborhood's signature housing stock - the three decker - for his design.

"I have a series that's reflective of the three deckers that you see on the sidestreets of Dorchester and Mattapan," said Burns, whose works have recently been exhibited at galleries in downtown Boston. Bringing his talent right to the streets, Burns says, was exciting for him and the many pedestrians who stopped to get a closer look.

"It's been fun," said Burns. "It's better for local artists, residents and neighbors to get in the mix."

Seven year-old Joseph Davis got in the mix - quite literally - of artist John Crowley's box design in front of Neponsets Garvey Park. Crowley based his design of multi-colored palm-prints on a cut-out of Davis's own hand. The South Boston artist says his box - inspired by the youngsters who use the park just over the fence on a daily basis - should be done sometime next week.

Karin Goodfellow, who is supervising the project for the Boston Arts Commission, says that part of the idea of the program is "to get artists out into the neighborhoods." Artists get a small stipend for each box, mostly to cover supplies. For now, funds for the payments are coming out of the city's Boston Shines program and from donors like Mt. Washington Bank.

"We give the artists free reign to come up with designs," Goodfellow said. "They submit the design and we go over them together. People aren't turning in any that are problematic."

"We're really hoping for some positive neighborhood feedback," said Goodfellow. "Hopefully we can get more people involved. This is starting small for now, but we'll see how people like it."

Lauren Smyth, who works as one of Mayor Menino's liaisons to Dorchester, thinks that the program will take off because it will likely help deter vandals from using the silver boxes for unauthorized designs of their own. Smyth says she is constantly fielding complaints about graffiti and illicit ads and bumper stickers on the boxes.

Goodfellow holds out hope that the city-sanctioned artwork will be left intact, like so many murals across the neighborhoods which are typically respected by graffiti artists.

"If they get tagged, they get tagged," says Goodfellow. "We're hoping they won't."