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Utility boxes in Nanaimo covered in artwork to combat graffiti

City enlists three local artists to create designs for six downtown hydro boxes
Artist Sebastian Abboud created designs to cover electrical boxes on Chapel, Dunsmuir and Skinner streets in downtown Nanaimo. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)

Six Nanaimo utility bins are now wrapped in art as part of a city pilot project aiming to build a roster of local artists to beautify bits of civic infrastructure.

Last week designs by artists Sebastian Abboud, Noel Brown and Joel Good were installed on B.C. Hydro bins in downtown Nanaimo, Maffeo Sutton Park and Harewood Centennial Park. City of Nanaimo culture and events coordinator Allison Collins said the art is also meant to combat vandalism.

“People are deterred from putting graffiti on things that already have an interesting look,” she said. “So it’s much more appealing to someone to put a tag on something that doesn’t have art on it already.”

Collins said three of the bins on Chapel, Dunsmuir and Skinner streets were “plagued” with graffiti and the bylaw services team was looking for some kind of covering for them.

“They weren’t sure what kind of design they wanted to put on it and then we stepped in and said, ‘Well, we’re interested in doing this project, so why don’t we work on this together?’” she said.

Just as the department was looking for artists, Abboud reached out to them with a similar proposition. He said he goes on frequent walks through his south Nanaimo neighbourhood and has been seeing increased graffiti on utility boxes.

“A couple years ago there was a similar project in Vancouver where they invited a bunch of artists to wrap these utility-type boxes in Vancouver and they were just so wonderful. These great pops of colour,” he said. “And I figured why not do something similar in Nanaimo?”

When he learned that the city was looking for artists for just that purpose, he said “the stars just aligned.” He said the theme of his designs is community.

“I wanted it to be inclusive and I wanted it to be really just a fun art piece that could be enjoyed by all ages,” he said. “And it’s bright and it’s colourful.”

The city subsequently invited Brown and Good to create designs for three other utility bins. Collins said if the pilot project goes well, future targets for graffiti-discouraging art could include manhole covers, bike racks, street barriers and bollards.

“I think we could all stand to benefit from more public art in Nanaimo, especially in smaller, lower-budget applications,” Abboud said. “I think there are just so many opportunities for art and to bring more colour into Nanaimo.”

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