In most cities, the plain coloring of utility boxes blends in with the background scenery. But in Calgary, these fixtures have become three-dimensional canvases, decorated by artists to add a splash of color to the city streets.
In 2010, the city of Calgary initiated the Utility Box Public Art Program with the goal of deterring vandalism and graffiti. With the help of local artists, the plain grays and greens typical of these fixtures disappeared beneath vibrant artworks depicting everything from the local wildlife to abstract patterns. Given the boxes’ popularity among the people of Calgary, the program became permanent in 2011 and has continued to grow, engaging new partners and artists from around the city.
Although it began as a preventative measure against vandalism, the Utility Box Program has become a cultural symbol of Calgary. The colorful designs are celebrated as beloved additions to the cityscape that people can enjoy while driving to work or the grocery store. As many of the artworks depict aspects of the local culture, the utility boxes function not only to brighten people’s days with vibrant hues, but also to foster a sense of community and shared identity amongst Calgarians. And for tourists, visiting these utility boxes is an excellent way to pass a day away while taking in some of the sights of the city.
Know Before You Go
The first box was decorated along 16th Avenue N in 2010. Since then, more than 200 have been decorated. You can browse the painted utility boxes and their locations on the Calgary city website.