Diane Kleber: The benefits of artistic manhole covers


  • The city of Northampton is spending $20,000 to install four manhole covers downtown featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The original comic book was co-created by Kevin Easthampton, who lived in Northampton at the time. frogdna via FLICKR

Published: 5/21/2023 8:36:43 PM
Modified: 5/21/2023 8:34:12 PM

I am not an artist, but I do like art including public art of all kinds! I generally don’t agree with the letters decrying the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles manhole covers and the letter of May 11 [“Manhole covers not a communications tool,” Gazette] was the straw that moved me to write.

I believe that public urban art can be fun as well as serious. It can also be surprising, and looking down to see a bit of art on or disguised as a manhole cover, would give kids and adults a moment to see that art can be everywhere! And how appropriate to find TMNT-inspired art on some Northampton manhole covers since the TMNT “live” in our urban sewers! If that discovery isn’t enough to communicate, maybe pizza shaped signs near each cover could explain their existence.

My kids and I always enjoyed finding the sidewalk and street-embedded bronzed banana peels, gloves and farmers market “trash” at the Haymarket in Boston (installed 1976). And bronze quotes by famous Spanish writers are embedded in the walkway of the literary quarter of downtown Madrid. Artistic manhole covers are popular in Japan and over 100 were commissioned in Seattle. Even manhole covers through the ages that were not specifically created as public art often have an artistic element and are the subject of books, online images and even “rubbings” the way tombstone art can be.

Of course I hope that the money (money provided by a broad base of U.S. taxpayers) and additional private grant money, if necessary, is used for a well-designed project, including the siting and communication, as well as designing and casting the covers. But, really, to me it seems appropriate and delightful to use some manhole covers in Northampton for a bit of long-lived public art to help celebrate our city coming through unhappy and tragic COVID years!

Diane Kleber


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