In 2005, the City of Toronto provided funding to Style in Progress, a not-for-profit organization, that promotes urban art, music, dance, and fashion through events and partnerships, to paint 10 Bell Canada utility boxes.
This was done as part of the city’s neighbourhood beautification drive in hopes of deterring people from tagging and vandalizing the boxes. It proved to be a success.
This later gave birth to the Bell Urban Art Project, in which Bell Canada provided $20,000 for artists from Style in Progress to paint 40 more boxes. The boxes can be found all over the city.
Deputy Mayor, Joe Pantalone, initially came up with the idea of painting the boxes and he is hoping that more boxes will be painted in the future.
“Bell utility boxes or empty walls are invitations for graffiti that doesn’t meet community standards,” says Pantalone. “This program is great because everybody’s a winner. It’s so logical and affordable.”
Though the idea may be great, it definitely is not new. Other cities, such as San Francisco, have already jumped on board with idea of using art not only as a deterrent but as a way of making cities more beautiful.
The founder of Style in Progress, Janna Van Hoof believes that through this project, artist are able to expose their art as well as involve the community in what they are doing.
“This creates a creative environment,” says Van Hoof. “All boxes should be painted. It’s a good resource for public art.”
Van Hoof also hopes that through projects such as this, graffiti artists will be more respected and the stereotypes attached to graffiti will change.
‘Many think that it’s gang related and it’s not’
“Graffiti is a sub-culture that people don’t understand,” she says. “Many think that it’s gang related and it’s not.”
In further efforts to keep Toronto streets free of illegal graffiti, the city has started a Graffiti Transformation program which gives up and coming artists the opportunity to express themselves through art in positive forms.
The program addresses both youth unemployment and neighbourhood improvement. It was started in 1996 and since then over 1000 youths have been involved in cleaning up vandalized walls with murals and art.
“Graffiti art is not going away,” says Van Hoof. “We should embrace it as best as we can.”
There has been no confirmation that Bell Canada will be providing more funding towards painting of the utility boxes.
Paolo Pasquini, a media relations spokesperson for Bell, stated that though nothing is currently in the works there is always the possibility of further collaborations with businesses and organizations.
“If Bell Canada can see that the painted utility boxes are not being vandalized and that they are not having to paint over them with grey paint then maybe they will provide more funding,” says Van Hoof.