The next time you’re stopped at a red light in New Orleans, look around and see what inspires you. It might be the architecture or the canopy of live oaks, but it might also be the utility box in the middle of the neutral ground (that’s what we call medians here in NOLA.) All around town, an ongoing community project is underway to transform drab traffic signal control utility boxes into colorful, personalized public art for passersby to enjoy.
CVU, which is shorthand for Community Visions Unlimited New Orleans, is taking charge of the effort to transform these everyday metal boxes into something people stop, take notice of and appreciate, which is something that can’t be said of their industrial green native state, often covered with flyers and handbills or tagged with graffiti.
Since this project started last year, over 40 of the city’s more than 400 signal boxes have been spruced up and painted by more than a dozen artists, beautifying the neighborhoods they serve. They also provide an engine of economic development, as the artists who are chosen to paint each box, through a proposal and contract, receive a stipend for their work. And once finished, these unusual public canvases have remained blemish, graffiti and flyer-free.
The artists and CVU work with the neighborhood associations and community organizations on the themes and content of each box, either trying to reflect a mirror image of its location, or something more abstract and colorful, but always trying to highlight the beautiful green spaces that often surround each intersection.
What has happened is now spawning DIY tours – and what better way to see New Orleans than by discovering its public art. The CVU website maintains a PDF list of completed intersections, as well as a map highlighting some of the commissions with bios for the artists.
With most of the completed boxes situated in Mid-City, Faubourg St. John and Lakeview, and now spreading Uptown, and more being completed every month, what once was an unremarkable piece of urban engineering and necessity is now a work of art.
Next time you’re out and about, look for these works of art at many New Orleans intersections.
Harrison Avenue and Canal Boulevard, I 6-10 Junction and Canal Boulevard, Harrison Avenue and West End Boulevards, Harrison Avenue and Pontchartrain Boulevard, Canal and Robert E. Lee Boulevards, Canal Boulevard and Filmore Street, Canal Boulevard and Navarre Avenue, Harrison Avenue and Marconi Drive, Regent Street and Robert E. Lee Boulevard, Pontchartrain Boulevard and Hammond Highway, Pontchartrain Boulevard and Robert E. Lee Boulevards, Polk Street and West End Boulevards, City Park Avenue and Marconi Drive.
City Park Avenue and Canal Boulevard, City Park Avenue and Bienville Avenue, City Park and Esplanade Avenues, Orleans Avenue and Jeff Davis Highway, Jeff Davis Highway and Lafitte Avenue, Jeff Davis Highway and Bienvill Avenue, Jeff Davis Highway and Canal Boulevard, Jeff Davis Highway and Banks Street, Jeff Davis Highway and Tulane Avenue, Earhart Expressway and Washington Avenue, Earhart Expressway and Jeff Davis Highway, Earhart Expressway and Pine Street, Earhart Expressway and Carrollton Avenue, Broad and Bienville Street, Carrollton Avenue and Orleans Avenue, Carrollton Avenue and Banks Streets, Carrollton Avenue and Palm Street, City Park and Carrollton Avenue.
Walmsley and Carrollton Avenue, Fontainebleau Drive and Nashville Avenue, Freret Street and Nashville Avenue, Freret and State Street, Freret Street and Calhoun Street, Willow Street and McAlister Drive.
Photos by Paul Broussard