As Portland considers adding high-profile public art projects at both Congress Square and Woodfords Corner, a group of local painters is quietly turning some of the city’s drab street corner utility boxes into unexpected works of public art.

Five of the large black boxes, which sit next to intersections and contain the equipment that controls traffic signals, are being painted by local artists. Four of the artists are from Portland, the other is from South Portland.

At Congress Square Park, South Portland resident Kerrin Parkinson painted the Portland skyline in purple, with a large sun, slightly obscured with thin clouds, reflected in the ocean. The horizon is a rainbow of light.

A block away at Cumberland Avenue and High Street, Jared Goulette painted a wavy blue, green and yellow design, rippling outward.

Another cityscape, by Katey Carnahan, decorates the utility box at Cumberland Avenue and Franklin Street, across from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It depicts cars meandering along roads and bridges, along with a stairway leading up what appears to be the Eiffel Tower.

A previously blank utility box at Pearl and Middle streets is being decorated by Michael Lewis with boats and balloons floating through a blue sky with yellow clouds.

A fifth utility box at Woodfords Street and Stevens Avenue will be painted by Alicia Uth.

“We’ve seen a tremendous response to our utility box public art project in addition to all the enthusiasm around this installation in Congress Square,” City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said, referring to the city’s selection of New York City-based artist Sarah Sze to design a project there.

The city said in news release that the artwork is intended to beautify the urban landscape, increase civic participation and support the local arts community.

The utility box project mirrors similar efforts in cities around the country from Burbank, California, to Boston. The public art has been shown to reduce litter, deter graffiti, and increase interest in areas where the utility boxes are located.

The five artists were chosen in July, about a month after the city solicited proposals. A dozen artists applied and the winner was chosen by a panel of artists. The winning artists began work earlier this month.

The $1,500 project was funded through donations from NBT Bank and Port Property Management. Each artist received a $300 stipend, but had to pay for their materials.

The utility box project is taking place as the city is considering designs for a street lamp sculpture at Woodfords Corner and as the city moves forward with a major public art installation at Congress Square.

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