Painting the town: Artists decorate utility boxes in Dover

DOVER — Charon Dagley, a seventh- and eighth-grade art teacher at Central Middle School, is among several local artists, with plans, paints and brushes at the ready, who are leaving a lasting imprint on downtown Dover — one stroke at a time.

It is the result of a colorful and creative decision that took place in the fall of 2017 when members of Dover City Council voted unanimously to allow NCALL Research’s Restoring Central Dover initiative the needed agreements that allowed artwork to be placed on Delaware Department of Transportation traffic control devices and city of Dover electric equipment.

Nowadays, one never knows exactly what kind of artwork they might discover while driving the streets of downtown Dover.

Ms. Dagley spent her Wednesday with her art equipment in front of her as she got this year’s second phase of the utility box art project underway at the intersection of Division and Forest Streets, the western gateway to downtown Dover near Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

She was in the process of making a striking creation that highlights the memorable events of her youth – and now – that take place every year in Dover.

“This is kind of about memories of my childhood,” she said. “Everything I remember, and I still see going on, the traditions of downtown Dover … things like Dover Days, the fireworks on The Green, the Dover High School homecoming parade, the African-American Festival, along with the new traditions they’re starting with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and First Friday’s in Dover.

“I’m trying to incorporate all of that before you enter downtown so you can kind of see all of the different kinds of things that do happen downtown.”

This isn’t Ms. Dagley’s first experience with NCALL’s utility box art project. Last year, several of her students from Central Middle added their combined vision to a traffic box at State and Division Streets.

“People still tell me they drive past it with their parents, and they point to it,” said Ms. Dagley. “They take ownership in their community and pride, as well. So, I really do like it. Everyone has been very supportive …”

Karen Zheng, who was an eighth-grader at Central Middle, was among eight students who donned reflective vests for protection and painted a traffic box last year at State and Division Streets.

“It’s special,” she said. “Now we’ll get a chance to look back into our past and see ‘Oh, we did something here.’”

Will Grimes, a neighborhood revitalization coordinator for NCALL serving as lead of the art project, said DelDOT traffic boxes account for 18 different art projects. Nine boxes were painted by local artists last year and he expects the remaining nine to be completed this year.

DelDOT granted the artists permission to add some color to their traffic boxes. The art had to be approved and cannot be political in nature, or advertising.

“We give (the artists) some minor stipulations about how to be careful around traffic, but we didn’t want anything to do with the actual artwork, we wanted to allow that to stay local,” said Mark Luszcz, chief traffic engineer for DelDOT. “Between the city and the artists, they figure out what artwork is allowed. As long as it’s just nice artwork, we’re good with it.”

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

Mr. Grimes said once the community saw what was taking place downtown with the art project that they have given positive feedback.

“We’ve received outstanding feedback,” he said. “The community has really, really embraced it. We’re hearing from business owners about how wonderful it has been in brightening up the area, so we’ve been getting some positive feedback for the project.

“We have really allowed the artists just to use their creativity and it’s just been beautiful to see how the projects have really been coming together. There’s one over by Eden Hill that was painted by Mr. John Waters. That one is really nice and has dolphins on it.”

He said that art in downtown Dover is spreading because of the positive reviews it has received.

“This has really spurred something else because we’re working with the Downtown Dover Partnership to put a mural on the Mitten and Winters building at 117 Loockerman Street,” Mr. Grimes said. “So, the whole art projects have been taking off and are being utilized as a means of community development and we’re real excited about it.”

Ms. Dagley is grateful to all the agencies that combined to bring the utility box project to life.

“I love it,” she said. “I love hearing people tell me they enjoy seeing it even while we were working on it (last year). My students just loved the feedback they were getting.”

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.”

Ms. Dagley could easily agree to that statement. “It’s very therapeutic,” she said. Last year, several of her students from Central Middle added their combined vision to a traffic box at State and Division Streets.

“I’ll probably be working on this through Easter break and hope to be finished in early May.”

Then, she will be able to unveil downtown Dover’s latest masterpiece.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at 741-8230 or


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