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Art for art's sake: the $20,000 question

Art for art's sake: the $20,000 question

October 23, 2009
October 23, 2009

The aesthetics of downtown Boise have gotten a $20,000 boost, in the form of decorations on five traffic control boxes. Acording to city records, the money came from the Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant program, the same source that was tapped for $25,000 to install 15 bike lockers downtown.

The traffic control boxes are plain metal, pretty nondescript in appearance, and are sometimes targeted by graffiti "artists". So the Downtown Business Association reasoned that decorating them with work by local artists might deter the taggers, and help improve the aesthetics of downtown.

Idaho and 8th

The Idaho Freedom Foundation contacted Karen Sander with the Downtown Boise Association, who said many cities are decorating their traffic control boxes. "We got the idea actually from Calgary. They had worked on that to kind of offset the issue of graffiti that happens in many cities, especially on public property. So yes, there are a variety of different cities, not only just around this country, but around the world, that do this kind of work."

Idaho and 9th

Sander said they hired five local artists and paid them $1,000 apiece for their original work. That work was then transferred to a vinyl wrap, like is used for bus advertising, and radio station vans. She said the vinyl art will last longer than paint, and is easier to clean. However, it’s not graffiti-proof. "There’s nothing that’s anti-graffiti, unfortunately."

Capitol and Main

Pleasing to the eye? Surely. But at a time when the city of Boise has had to lay off employees and not fill a number of positions within the Boise Fire and Police Departments, is it a good idea to spend so much money on artwork?

Capitol and Idaho

Five control boxes for a total of $20,000 equals $4,000 apiece. Each artist got $1,000, which means $3,000 went into the vinyl wrapping process of each box. If traffic control boxes absolutely must be decorated, aren’t there cheaper alternatives? Did anyone on the Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant committee look into alternative means of sprucing up downtown?

Main and 9th

The Idaho Freedom Foundation contacted members of the Boise City Council for comment, but at the time of this writing has yet to hear back from anyone. However, Karen Sander said, "What we looked at was what other cities had done, and it all pretty much lined up with what those costs were. Everybody is very budget-conscious, and so there’s no way that we would have been able to do them less expensively using this type of method, with the vinyl wrap."

But what about other methods, that don’t involve an expensive vinyl wrap, or paying professional artists to do the work? What about asking civic groups or other volunteers to do the decorating by donating their time? "Hindsight is 20/20, and I’m sure there are all sorts of things that could be considered," Sander said, "When we worked with the Art and History department, we really wanted this to be a quality art piece, and so the first step was to look at the multitude of talent with the local artists that we have, so that’s the pool we tapped into."

Recently, employees the Bureau of Land Management painted a mural on the Garden City Boys and Girls Club, donating their time to do so.

Idaho Freedom Foundation
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