Manchester, NH

Contact Name
Monica Leap
Project Dates
Fall 2013 - 2014
Tags
Design
“Think Outside the Box” was a public art project that transformed three downtown traffic signal boxes into canvases for the original work of three local artists. It was a public-private partnership that used no public funds to bring color, creativity, and vitality to downtown. 2014 was the pilot year of the project and it is scheduled to be a biennial project.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The revitalization of downtown Manchester over the past 5-10 years has been focused, understandably, on economic development, business, and infrastructure. Besides maintaining the historic charm of downtown, little consideration has been given to art or aesthetics. The city is a blank canvas for public art.

The goals of this pilot project are to:
1) Beautify the city by infusing art, color, and creativity into the urban landscape
2) Add to the vitality and attractiveness of the downtown core while deterring graffiti
3) Highlight and celebrate local artists
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
It has only been one year, so we don't know yet.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Property owners: City of Manchester: Mayor and Board of Aldermen, City of Manchester: Highway Department

Project coordinators: Studio 550 ART CENTER, InTown Manchester (downtown development corporation)

Local Artists: Rob Sardella, Nancy Welsh, Carolina Davidson were selected to paint one box each.

Local Business Sponsors: Baker Newman Noyes (accounting firm), Granite YMCA, Cityside Management Corporation (property management) provided funds for the artist stipends.

Volunteers from a local Art Honor Society Chapter helped to sand and clean the boxes before the artists painted and clear coat the boxes afterward.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
We did not reference a particular document or plan in bringing this project to fruition. We were operating under the premise that a project that made the city more attractive visually or culturally would trickle down to benefit the residents, the businesses and more.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
There was no location in particular. Many other cities have implemented a similar project, all with slight variations to make it fit based on their resources. For example, some cities had one artist paint a set of boxes, others had a similar call for entries, while others still had the artist designs printed onto a vinyl wrap for installation (instead of paint). To name just a few, Brisbane Australia; San Jose, CA; and Tampa, FL. have similar projects. We actually didn't know how many other cities had implemented a utility box painting project until we started to research it.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Preliminary Research & Writing: Fall 2013
1) Studio 550 was the primary organizer. The Studio narrowed down that the local utility company was not interested in participating, but the City Highway Department was. Together, they identified the boxes in downtown that belonged to the Highway Department.
2) The Studio partnered with InTown Manchester because the project fit under their mission to beautify and promote downtown. The two organizations met to strategize. InTown would be in charge getting the project approved by the City and finding sponsors. Studio 550 would craft the prospectus and handle the call for artists, jury process, and all communications with the selected artists.
3) Cost estimates were obtained to see if it would be possible to wrap the boxes vs. paint them. We thought the price of wrapping the boxes would make sponsorship cost-prohibitive, so we decided to go with paint.
4) The draft prospectus was written, referencing other cities and keeping in mind Manchester’s unique character and needs.
5) The Jury, which was made up of members of the government, business, and arts communities in Manchester, was confirmed.
6) InTown created an information packet to distribute to potential sponsors.
7) Studio 550 researched clear coats for outdoor public art extensively to select appropriate materials to protect the finished pieces.
Approvals & Roll-out: Winter/Spring 2014
8) The downtown ward Alderman was contacted for his opinion. A meeting was set with the Mayor to review the draft prospectus and get any feedback. The Mayor approved the project, and then the Board of Aldermen approved the project officially in a town meeting.
9) The Call for Entries was announced throughout the state, promoted through social media, and other media avenues. Press releases and reminder Press releases were sent.
10) Applications came in. They were anonymized, the jury met and ranked the entries.
11) The top ranked artists were contacted and signed artist contracts. Each was given a $100 stipend for materials.
12) The boxes were sanded and lightly cleaned for the artists.
Painting and Wrap up: Summer/Fall 2014
13) Once the weather cleared the artists painted. Once they were complete, the artists were given the $200 remainder of their stipend.
14) A public unveiling was scheduled for September to invite media, sponsors, artists, the city, and the public to view the completed boxes of art. Postcards of each box was printed and distributed.
15) The boxes were painted with a preservation grade clear coat to protect them from the elements. Next, a sacrificial graffiti-protectant layer was painted on so if they were to be tagged it would be easier to clean.
16) Preparations begin for year #2.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
This was only the pilot year of the project, so there is nothing to compare to. However, I can see the project being even easier to pass through city approvals next time.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Surprisingly there were no major obstacles, just minor inconveniences. In the beginning, we anticipated push-back from the mayor and the board for a public art project. However, it was approved by both with hardly a question.

What proved to be more difficult was encouraging artists to apply and once they were approved and assigned a box, getting them to finish by a deadline. There was one artist who was no issue at all and finished her box quickly and professionally. The second artist did an absolutely stunning job, but kept asking for more time to add details and improvements. That artist was still painting the morning of the public unveiling. The final artist had to be reminded to finish the project weekly and then finished it in a week but did not paint it as her original design depicted. She was the most difficult one to interact with.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Perhaps the reason why the city did not have an issue with the project is because
1) We spoke to the relevant parties separately to get their (unofficial) approvals before we formally brought it before the board for a vote.
2) We were over prepared. When we wrote the project summary and prospectus, we made every effort to foresee potential issues the board or the public would raise and addressed them in the prospectus.

In regards to working with artists:
We announced the call for artists in every art or art-related organization and institution we could find in the state, put ads or listings in major statewide and local-to-Manchester print publications, used social media, took advantage of free listings, and personally invited artists to apply. We came to understand that it had to be a particular type of artist who would apply for this project, regardless of how well we got the word out or how much convincing we tried. The type of artist who only looked at the stipend as the reward for painting their design would not apply. The artist who would apply would be one who cared about improving their community and who understood the marketing value of having their name out over the course of the project in addition to the stipend.

In regards to working with artists, patience and clear guidelines are critical. Have expectations written into the prospectus and the artist contract so there can be no confusion later. It is just as important to background check the work of the artists, but also the work ethic of the artists. Make sure they are good people to work with that will follow through. If they “flake out” on you, it might reflect poorly on the project and your abilities as organizer.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1) Get all relevant stakeholders on board before moving forward with the decision making process. That way, the people who have a say in the approval are already in favor when the time comes.
2) Even though in your mind it might be the best idea in the world and the most harmless project, understand there are always risks in a public project. Foresee as many of the arguments against the project that people might find, and either have a way to justify your reasoning or find a better solution.
3) If it is the first year for it or if there is hesitation, frame your project as a pilot project. This works for you in two ways. In one sense, it makes the project easier to accept politically because there are no long term commitments being made right then. In another sense, as a pilot project, it goes without saying that you will be back for more. “Pilot Project” is just another name for the first year of a recurring project.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Perhaps the strongest indicator of the positive impact of the project is the countless compliments the artists received when they were out in public painting their boxes. Strangers were thanking them for what they were doing, complimenting the artwork itself, and generally speaking well of the whole effort.

Visually, instead of fading into the periphery and getting lost in the urban cityscape like they did before, these boxes make a statement. They say, “Manchester is full of culture, color, and is worth taking a closer look at.” The placement of one serves almost as a welcome sign into the city.

It is still too early to tell what the long term impacts of the project will be.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The project met each of our original three goals (it made the downtown more interesting and colorful, it replaces a drab blank surface with something visually stimulating, and the names of these three artists will remain on the boxes until they are worn enough to be repainted by another artist). It was written in the prospectus that the boxes would remain painted by these artists for at least a year.

It also makes a case for the success of the project that everyone (city, public, artists, all included) would like them to remain up for longer and many people (at least the vocal ones) would like to expand the project to other boxes in the city.
How did you measure this success or progress?
1) Are we making the downtown more beautiful?
2) Was the public reception of the project positive?
3) Did we set a good precedent for public art (so that the city will allow more similar projects)?
4) Did we help bring people together (namely, artists and businesses, artists and city officials)?
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
It might be too early to tell the impacts this project will have down the line. However, I think relatable public art/beautification projects like this one make downtowns more appealing to people – especially people on foot. If this project helps to make our downtown more appealing to people (i.e. shoppers) then it helps to make the downtown more appealing to businesses as well.