The Paintbox Program


Photo provided by the Boston Art Commission


Text Written By Elana Willinsky


I have lived in the same apartment on the Brookline/Allston border for two years. Everyday I walk the familiar stretch of Harvard Street, glossing over the landmarks I have seen hundreds of times. Once in a while, and to my continuing delight, I will notice something new in the otherwise typical pallet of the neighborhood. There! a large spray paint skeleton bringing excitement to an inert brick wall. And, viewed from the roof of my apartment complex, a colorful and incomprehensible tag splashed beneath the overhang of a building.


Street art is an undercurrent of vibrancy throughout Allston. It mingles with the grit of the neighborhood, while simultaneously lifting the eye to the exceptional creativity the community fosters. I feel as though by witnessing and appreciating the street art that gets put up, destroyed, painted over, and redone all over the city, I am encountering some underground language to which only a few are attuned. Street art is a medium with a different kind of freedom than any other type of art. Its interaction with environment is celebratory yet provocative, bold yet transient.


Because of the inherent controversies in this art form it is, to me, highly compelling. Debates on every level over street art versus graffiti and vandalism versus creative expression will continue to rage. As an art lover, I want to say create and let create regardless of whether a street sign or a canvas calls to you. As a logical thinker I can understand how a tag on a store’s window front is disrespectful and an infringement upon the storeowner’s rights. There are many talented street artists who are forging their own paths, storeowner’s rights be damned. I think the work they do is important in keeping an artistic community’s creative spirit free and inventive, and vital to the conversation about the definition and meaning of art. That being said, there are also ways in which the medium of street art is flourishing in conjunction with the “powers that be”.


The Paintbox Program, launched by the Boston Art Commission and thriving in its sixth year, has touched every neighborhood of the city. Local artists are invited to make a piece of art out of government regulated utility boxes. The program was intended to deter “vandalism” of the spaces and bring lively art directly to the community. If you have been in Boston recently, or will be in the city soon, you will undoubtedly come across a treasure of this project. In nice weather artists can be seen, headphones on, working doggedly on their respective utility boxes amidst the bustle of the city streets. Throughout the cold months, the colorful and varied artworks pop through the freezing gray sludge of the weather, peeking from behind snowdrifts as a tiny reminder that eventually the winter will end. Besides being small pleasures for art lovers artists are able to showcase their style and imagination to the public. The paintboxes provide a small reconciliation within the art world between freedom of artistic expression and respect for a community at large.


GET THERE:  Go Outside!

SEE IT:  On view indefinitely.


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