Traffic control boxes transformed into public art

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Traffic control box design by Jessie Dishaw, installed 2019 at Scarth St. and 12th Ave. (text reads: “Stay Strong. Your story isn’t over yet.” And “It’s ok not to be ok.”) Janell Ranae Rempel

Infusing colour in the city core

This spring, new public artwork will be popping up in downtown Regina on unlikely canvases – traffic control boxes. Traffic control boxes often blend into the city core’s concrete backdrop. But the Urban Canvas Downtown Regina art program will inject some colour: eight of these traffic control boxes will be wrapped in vinyl artwork reproductions.  “When we put art in a space, we are saying we transfer the value that we put on the art to that place as well,” said Janell Ranae Rempel, who is the Urban Canvas Program & Research Coordinator.

These decked-out traffic control boxes will be completed just in time for the warmer weather. An additional three boxes will showcase archival heritage photos. The exact locations of these traffic control boxes will be determined once the artwork is completely installed. The deadline for submissions closed March 12. A panel of adjudicators choose the final artists. So far, there has been a diverse range of themes and ideas. Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID) will notify the winning artists in April. Both the artists and adjudicators will receive honorariums.

This year, the mural will be painted on one of the city utility building’s garage doors. The theme for this mural will be mental health or reconciliation. Since 2011, RDBID has been partnering with the City of Regina to brighten the city core with the Urban Canvas Downtown Regina art program. Initially, this program was set up to deter unwanted vandalism. In the past few years, about 60 artists from the province, the country, and the United States have had their work showcased on vacant storefronts and alley doors in addition to traffic control boxes and large-scale murals. Artists have painted almost 50 alley doors and more than 20 traffic control boxes, not counting this year’s eight that will be done.

Artists are asked to submit their work digitally so they can be printed on vinyl wraps.  There are benefits for using the vinyl wrap, especially during a pandemic, because the artists don’t need to travel to Regina to paint the traffic control boxes. Another benefit of using vinyl wraps: removing dirt or unwanted tagging is easier than restoring an original painting on a traffic control box surface. Rempel, who studied Anthropology at the University of Regina, sees graffiti as a means of mark-making and image-making. “Artwork is a kind of communication. It can be a way we show our presence in this place. It’s a more philosophical way of looking at graffiti,” she said. The public looks forward to the new artwork installations on utilitarian objects like traffic boxes or murals in alleys. Public art brightens the space and makes it more colourful. It gives pedestrians something interesting to look at while coming or going from work.

Seeing artwork can be also good for people’s health. “You can have your mind full of all the things you’re thinking about, worrying about in your daily life. Then you see this artwork. It just pulls you out of that moment. Studies have shown that when people walk into an art gallery, their blood pressure drops,” said Rempel. To view how past traffic control boxes were decorated, visit https://reginadowntown.ca/trafficboxart/

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