Growing community pride in Dover: City-inspired art to be displayed on utility boxes

Will Grimes of NCALL stand next to a utility box on Queen and Division streets that soon will have artwork. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The Delaware Department of Transportation and the city of Dover have combined to provide a new type of canvas for local artists to display their talent — utility boxes scattered throughout the city.

Members of Dover City Council, at its Oct. 9 meeting, voted unanimously to allow NCALL Research’s Restoring Central Dover initiative the needed rights-of-way use agreements that will allow placement of artwork on DelDOT traffic control devices and city of Dover electric equipment.

Joe Myer, executive director of NCALL, said “it is proven that community development and the arts go hand in hand, and revitalization is more successful when they fully connect. That is what we are pursuing in Dover.”

Will Grimes, a neighborhood revitalization coordinator for NCALL who is serving as the lead of the art project, said the DelDOT traffic boxes will account for 18 different art projects, not including the expansion of the initiative to the city’s electric boxes.

“We are very excited that the city has agreed to allow us to undertake this project,” Mr. Grimes said. “The local artists are very excited as well, with the thoughts of the beauty this initiative will bring to the city.”

Restoring Central Dover hopes the end outcome of projects such as this one with the arts will help transform the city into a place where people want to live and work and will attract visitors, businesses and investment.

Dave Hugg, Dover’s acting city planner, said the city actually latched onto the idea after going over the plan to allow artwork to be painted on DelDOT traffic control boxes.

“In the course of discussions we also realized that the city of Dover has a number of large pieces of equipment sitting at various places throughout the town that are under the control of the electric department, and it determined that it would be in our best interests if we also allowed those facilities to be part of this program that involves basically the city and NCALL,” Mr. Hugg said. “It does not involve DelDOT, so that necessitated an additional agreement, one between NCALL and the city.

“There is no expense to the city of Dover for being involved in this program and we will look to NCALL to actually put together procedures and processes for determining which of these facilities and what kind of artwork is appropriate.”

DelDOT traffic boxes will account for 18 different art projects, not including the expansion of the initiative to Dover’s electric boxes. (Submitted graphic)

While Mr. Hugg doesn’t foresee any problems to arise with the new downtown artwork, he did add that “the city retains the authority to discontinue or cause to be removed artwork that’s placed on these facilities, and the agreement with DelDOT also provides that DelDOT can ask that they be removed at any given time.”

The utility box artwork will not allow advertising for a brand, business or a particular service.

The idea behind the art is to have local artists develop images that reflect a quality of life and opportunities that exist in Dover.

“The intent of this program is to provide opportunities for artists of all skill and age levels to participate in the program,” said Mr. Hugg. “We have not yet set course with NCALL specific categories of art or artists or what have you.

“This is not intended to be ‘come out and paint your friendly traffic control signal just because you want to.’ It will be a managed program where the artist will have to describe what they are proposing to do and meet certain standards and make sure that the artwork is not offensive or something of that nature.”

Restoring Central Dover members see it as a chance to help add some vibrancy, civic pride and improved quality of life to the downtown area.

Orlando Short, a member of the Restoring Central Dover Steering Committee who lives downtown, said “art is not necessary for survival, but it is for life.”
Mr. Hugg said he hopes the utility box art initiative attracts several different kinds of artists.

“I’m hoping that the NCALL program will involve reaching out to the school system as well as seniors and other artists here in the community that have expressed an interest in making our community more attractive,” he said.

City Councilman Fred Neil, who represents the 3rd District, applauded the upcoming art program.

“I hope this is a type of seed that we can plant to have our own Dover Picasso, or Chagall, or Monet,” Councilman Neil said. “That would be wonderful if it turns out that way that we are responsible for doing this by letting these boxes be painted.”

Mr. Hugg assured Mr. Neil that his idea might not be out of the question.

“I can tell you Councilman Neil that I know personally of a number of very, very accomplished young – and not so young – artists in this town that will really help us send a message about living in the city of Dover,” he said.

Those vibrantly-colored messages will soon be on display at an intersection near you.

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