Spotlight on Clean St. John’s Traffic Box Art Program

“Sunflowers” by Susan Parsons at Churchill Square/Elizabeth Avenue.

St. John’s has long been hailed as a colourful city – from its bright jellybean row houses to its interesting local personalities. Thanks to Clean St. John’s Traffic Box Art Program, the city is slowly adding more hues to its ever-growing palette.

“Crayons” by Katie Vautour at Mary Queen of Peace/Torbay Road.

Started in 2012, the Traffic Box Art Program hires local artists to paint images or scenes onto traffic control boxes sprinkled throughout the city. A partnership between Clean St. John’s, the City of St. John’s and local corporate sponsors, the program aims to enhance civic pride and beautification, while giving local artists a highly visible canvas with which to showcase their skills and work.

The program came to be when Clean St. John’s member Wendy Batten noticed painted traffic boxes while on holiday in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She became inspired and took the idea home, where it was embraced by the city and Clean St. John’s board of directors. Soon, Clean St. John’s put out a call for a local artist, and the program took off from there.

Whether travelling by heels or by wheels, it’s almost impossible for the colourful traffic boxes not to capture the eye – and the imagination. From fields of wildflowers and whimsical fishing stages with bright dories bobbing below, to St. John’s envisioned as Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night,” each design, while vastly different from the other, helps paint a picture of this place, while enhancing the landscape around it.

“Row Houses” by Susan Parsons at Empire Avenue/King’s Bridge Road.

Local artists have painted 49 traffic boxes so far – but with over 100 in the city, there is much work left to do.

“Our goal is to do them all. So there’ll be eight more done this year. We want to see every traffic box painted,” says Karen Hickman, Executive Director of Clean St. John’s.

In addition to beautifying the city, Hickamn says the painted traffic boxes also helps keep graffiti at bay.

“They don’t get vandalized, they don’t get graffitied…I guess artists respect other artists’ work. They don’t get tagged or marked, which is great.”

The traffic boxes have been a hit with locals and tourists alike, Hickman says, and have garnered attention further afield as well, including a 2016 article in The Guardian.

“Fish Flake” by Dora Cooper at Thorburn Road/Bambrick Street.

Other municipalities have also taken note and have since started their own programs, including the City of Mount Pearl and the Town of Torbay.

Hickman says Clean St. John’s will be putting out another call for artists by the end of May or shortly thereafter. With only eight boxes chosen for a makeover each year, the task of selecting artists, she says, is a difficult one, “because we get beautiful submissions.” But it’s a process she looks forward to.

“You know, at an intersection, instead of having this green box, it’s beautiful to see it painted. And the other thing too is you’re recognizing and supporting local artists…we have so many talented artists in this city. It’s truly amazing.”

If you’re an artist who’s interested in participating in the Traffic Box Art Program, email karen@cleanstjohns.ca.