Beautiful Utilities: Transforming an Eyesore Into Artwork

May 24, 2017 7:08 am

When you think of the intersection of South Boulevard and East Boulevard, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s a business, or a memory of something taking place at the intersection. Or perhaps it’s how the intersection provides the dividing lines between nearby neighborhoods. When artist Laurie Smithwick had the opportunity to turn a utility box into an art instillation, this was the question she used to guide her work.

Smithwick, a longtime graphic designer and Charlotte native, was a recipient of a 2016 South End Placemaking Micro-Grant for her idea titled Beautiful Utilities, a way to transform utility boxes into something people want to see.

“At best, those traffic signal utility boxes are invisible,” says Smithwick. “At worst, they’re target for graffiti and stickers and become something that city has to keep clean.”

After seeing decorated utility boxes pop up in other cities, Smithwick decided to bring the idea to her hometown. Through the micro-grant program, now called South End Creative Lab, she was able to bring her vision to life at the corner of East Boulevard and South Boulevard. Last week, her piece was installed on the utility box outside of Grace Covenant Church.

When thinking about what she wanted the art instillation to be, she took to Facebook to see what this place meant to other Charlotte residents, posting on her own Facebook page and in two groups. Smithwick was in awe from the outpour of responses – over 500 of them – that shared people’s memories of when the Thanksgiving Day parade started at the intersection, the businesses that have been located there, and how the intersection is a meeting point for a diverse mix of neighborhoods.

“All of these people have memories of that intersection but they may be different depending on where they came from,” says Smithwick.

Smithwick wanted her instillation to highlight the intersectionality of the intersection and how the corner represents where differing Charlotte neighborhoods find their connecting point.

“It’s the corner of have and have not, of developed and undeveloped, the old money of Charlotte and the people who work to them,” says Smithwick.

Now that the art is installed, Smithwick hopes to be able to find more places to install beautiful utilities throughout the city.

If you have an idea to make South End a better place, do something about it with the South End Creative Lab. The micro-grant program provides small grants and support to people looking to improve their neighborhood and make South End what they want it to be.

With the South End Creative Lab application open now, Smithwick, a previous grant recipient, offers up the advice of thinking about what you want Charlotte to be:  “Get inspired by other cool, young, modern, progressive cities. What are cities like that doing that make you go ‘I wish Charlotte was doing that’?”

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