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PaintBox Program proposed for Northampton allowing artists to paint a dozen utility boxes



Last modified: Tuesday, December 03, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — About a dozen drab utility boxes throughout the city may soon be hard to ignore.

Belchertown artist Peter O. Zierlein is pitching a plan to launch a PaintBox Program in Northampton modeled after an endeavor that got its start in Boston five years ago. The program, if approved by the Board of Public Works and the Arts Council, would grant local artists permission to decorate city utility boxes.

The idea behind the urban revitalization project, Zierlein explains, is to create a small way to spruce up what are otherwise bland structures with colorful artwork and to showcase the local arts scene. The Boston Arts Commission hired Zierlein, a paper-cut artist, this year to paint five utility boxes and street control boxes in the Boston neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain and Allston.

“I was really turned on by the project and I’d like to bring it to Northampton,” Zierlein said. “It would be a good way to give a plug to artists in the Valley and a great way for Northampton to revitalize its arts scene.”

The Department of Public Works has identified at least a dozen boxes and a pair of flood-control structures that might be suitable for the project. The BPW voiced support for the idea at a meeting last month, but sent the plan to the Arts Council for further discussion. Some board members want to ensure that the project would be made available to many artists.

That’s something Zierlein hopes will happen. While the details of the program still need to be ironed out, he anticipates the Arts Council would create a panel of judges to review applications and decide who would get permission to paint the boxes.

If all goes as planned, Zierlein anticipates the project could begin next spring.

In Boston, the individual boxes vary in theme and technique depending on the artist. The overall goal, however, is to encourage artists to get out on the streets in neighborhoods and help create an ongoing dialogue about art by painting. The program is privately funded through corporate donations and uses no tax dollars.

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Mazza gets most votes

Perhaps Mayor David J. Narkewicz should call for a recount after last month’s municipal election given that City Clerk Wendy Mazza garnered four more votes than he did. Just kidding, of course.

Mazza collected 4,802 of 6,088 votes in her unopposed race, with 1,271 voters leaving the choice blank and another 15 writing in someone else’s name.

Narkewicz, meanwhile, had 4,798 votes in his unopposed race for a second term. In addition to the 1,092 voters who left their choices blank, 55 voters picked Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene A. Tacy (40 from wards 6 and 7), 12 voted for former two-time mayoral candidate Michael Bardsley, seven voted for City Council President William H. Dwight and 124 voters wrote in someone else’s name.

And R. Downey Meyer, who won another term as the Ward 7 School Committee representative with 62 votes, ran as a write-in candidate after he failed to get his paperwork in by a July deadline. That meant there was no one on the ballot to choose for the seat, and 1,337 of the 1,428 Ward 7 voters left it blank. Another 29 people wrote in someone else’s name.

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Honoring Human Rights Day

A Smith College professor and mental health responder for disasters will give the keynote speech to mark the city’s recognition of Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

Josh Miller, associate dean of the college’s School for Social Work, will discuss how people can help in the area of racial justice. The event, dubbed “It’s In Our Hands,” is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, 220 Main St.

City Council President William H. Dwight will serve as master of ceremonies. In addition to Miller, the event will include a public reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and performances by the children’s choir at the Northampton Community Music Center and The Raging Grannies.

The event will be sponsored by the Northampton Human Rights Commission and the Unitarian Society’s Social Justice Committee.

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Bridge to close

The Department of Public Works expects to close the Old Springfield Road bridge in the Meadows for the winter beginning Tuesday. The bridge, which the department closes every winter, will reopen in the spring after the flood season ends.