Infrastructure as canvas

A painted utility box in Minneapolis – photo by Uncommon Fritallary

Over the past year, LivableMHT has discussed some big ideas for the city–the Riverwalk, a vision for connecting the riverfront and Elm StreetSTEAM Ahead, bike lanes and trails, preserving the few remaining historic buildings in Granite Square, the identity of Manchester’s neighborhoods, the need for city leaders to guide growth, and the ongoing efforts of Intown Manchester to do just that–but often improvement in the city can result from relatively small interventions. And in the scale of the city, things don’t come much smaller than the utility boxes that dot sidewalks across Manchester. With that in mind, Studio 550, in collaboration with the City, the Manchester Arts Comission and Intown Manchester, is calling on New Hampshire artists to beautify a handful of utility boxes around downtown in an initiative called Think Outside the Box.

In Boston, where the program is called Paintbox, and other cities, painted utility boxes have turned infrastructural eyesores into public art, beautifying neighborhoods, deterring vandalism, and showcasing local talent. The call to artists is open to all New Hampshire residents, but Think Outside the Box is especially encouraging Manchester residents to apply. Applications will be judged by a local jury, and the winners will paint their designs on downtown utility boxes in April.

Beautifying utility boxes is small change, but one that shows the color–literal and figurative, in this case–of the city, and could lead to other small improvements in infrastructure and beautification, and that could eventually raise the entire perception and appearance of the Queen City.

It’s good to see an organization like Studio 550 working to improve the city. It will be even better to see the newly painted utility boxes in 2014. Happy New Year, Manchester.

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