Utility Box Art: Lilacs and Gas Lights for New Brighton and McKenzie Towne

Two communities get brighter utility boxes thanks to artist Michelle Wiebe



Photos courtesy of Michelle Wiebe

You have probably noticed our over the past several years our city's utility boxes have been used as canvases for art. It's part of the Utility Box Program, which began in 2010 as a way to create public art using funding for regular lifecycle maintenance of the boxes. In April 2014, the Inspiring Strong Neighbourhoods Initiative was launched. It expands on the utility box program by partnering artists with communities. Those artists were then asked to consult with the community and design boxes that reflect the community that they are working with. Avenue decided to check in on a few of the boxes to see how local artists interpret Calgary communities. This is our second installment, you can see the first here.

The Communities

Wiebe was assigned to work on two adjoining neighborhoods, McKenzie Towne and New Brighton, which is bordered by Deerfoot Trail to the West, 130 Avenue S.E. to the North and Stoney Trail S.E. to the South. As part of the community involvement aspect of the project, she engaged with the neighbourhoods back in July during a large Stampede breakfast, where she asked members of both communities what they thought best represented them and what they’d like to see painted, though it often took a little prodding. “If you want to put people on the spot, ask them what kind of art they want!” She laughs.

The Artist

Dabbling in different art mediums from an early age, B.C. native Michelle Wiebe settled on painting as a teen, a passion that’s taken her everywhere from Nova Scotia to Swaziland, though she’s now settled in Calgary. Curious about the painted utility boxes she’d seen around town, when the city's call for applications scrolled across her Twitter feed, she quickly submitted her proposal. “I sign up for every art related thing on Twitter." She admits. "I’m the biggest Twitter nerd.” You can find more of Wiebe's work on her website mw-artco.blogspot.ca.

The Boxes

New Brighton's box features lilacs as a focal point, a nod to the ubiquity of the flower in the neighborhood's parks and signage. “You wouldn’t necessarily pick up on that as an outsider outside of lilac season.” She says, noting that a significant number of residents thought of the flower in relation to New Brighton’s identity.

McKenzie Towne residents thought their old style gas lights were representative of their area and many told Wiebe about the strong bond found within the community. With this in mind, a chain circling around the box with images of the neighborhood in each link was painted to represent the strength of the community, with a pair of gas lights on the front and back end.

You can see both boxes at the locations on the map below.

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