Creating stunning public art on utility boxes is catching on in area communities

ARLINGTON, Mass. — Beautiful murals and colorful paintings are popping up all over the area this summer.

More communities are sponsoring programs to take ugly utility boxes and turn them into colorful works of public art.

With the precision of a pencil and the stroke of a brush, Grace Willoughby is busy creating a work of art on a busy street in Arlington.

“I just thought about leaving something better than you found it,” said Willoughby, an Arlington native who is a rising senior at Vassar College. “The concept of painting a mural in general and bringing some splashes of color into the neighborhood just really excited me.”

Willoughby is participating in a program sponsored by “Arts Arlington.”

For the last several years, the nonprofit has held a competition with provides the winning artists with a stipend to transform an ugly utility box.

Examples of the work can be seen near the town’s busy bike path and along Massachusetts Avenue where it’s now hard to tell the real flowers from the painted ones.

“My view is that public art should be turning everyday objects that can be kind of blah in color into something that’s attractive,” said Laurie Bogdan of Arts Arlington.

A similar program is also underway in Wellesley.

D’Ann Hansen is one of the artists selected to paint a box there. Her theme is pollinators.

Wellesley High School students highlighted a vernal pool on another box.

Abstract art creates a kaleidoscope of color along Washington Street.

Hansen thinks these joyful displays are needed more than ever.

“When people see art, they just get a boost, especially after COVID. I think people were just happy to see life back in the community and art does that. It brings back life.”

Police Chief Jack Pilecki got inspired to start Wellesley’s program after seeing decorated boxes in other towns.

“Put a smile on someone’s face, when you’re sitting in traffic,” he said.

He likes that the department’s involvement gives the police department a positive way to interact with the community.

“Let’s face it. Most of the time when the cops show up at your door, it’s not good news. And through this project, and if people understand that the police are behind it in a way, they can view us differently,” Pilecki said.

The Wellesley program is funded through donations and grants.

Julie Vari-Nikolewski and Sue Morris help organize it and aren’t surprised more towns are putting out the call to artists.

“It’s this opportunity to create something in their town without a lot of trouble,” explained Vari-Nikolewski.

“It’s user-friendly, accessible art,” added Morris. “You don’t have to go to a museum. You don’t have to do anything except drive up Washington Street or down Linden and you get to see some really cool art.”

While communities like Salem and Natick have been sponsoring artists for a few years now, Boston and Hull are both starting programs this summer.