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Project turns city eyesores into art space

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Project turns city eyesores into art space
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Twenty-one artists will have a chance to change the view in the City of Ithaca this month. The 21 Boxes Project will turn electrical boxes into outlets for art. But as our Tamara Lindstrom reports, the project aims to do more than beautify city streets.

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Where the utilitarian gray boxes have, at best, gone unnoticed on city street corners, the city's Public Art Commission sees blank canvases.

"They gave us permission to do parking garages, some retaining walls, the electrical boxes. Different walls that the Department of Public Works uses," said City of Ithaca Public Art Commission board member Caleb Thomas. "And this grew out of that."

A new project called 21 Boxes has 21 artists turning the electrical stations into mini-murals.

"We've got someone doing botanical illustrations. We have some people doing illustrative more cartoon style, figurative. We've got some people doing abstract images. People doing landscape. It's a wide variety," Thomas said.

"My piece is pretty light hearted. It's just about bikes and imagination," said artist Sean Chilson, who is painting an electrical box at State and Corn Streets. "So I'm kind of just morphing a lot of my creatures together and making them ride bikes."

The paintings are just beginning to take shape and already the project has gotten a lot of positive feedback from the community. But Thomas hopes the art will inspire people to take a part in what their city looks like.

"We have a great department of planning in the city government and architects that have designed different structures in Ithaca," Thomas said. "So how do we open it up to artists and every day people to have their voice also in the landscape?"

And artists hope their work will do more than pretty up the streets.

"Certain neighborhoods, you would never stop before, because some people are scared of certain neighborhoods," Chilson said. "Now people are actually going to stop and think, 'Oh, cool, what is this? What's that weird creature on that box?' And they get out and look around. And that's going to start to bring a positive vibe to these neighborhoods."

Small installations that could help to make big changes.

A grant from the Tompkins Charitable Gift Fund covered expenses for 21 Boxes. Organizers are looking for input on new projects. If you have an area you'd like to see made into art, contact the City of Ithaca Public Art Commission.

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