Monday, February 22, 2021

Public Art


News to me, although clearly not new to residents of Baltimore, are the yellow salt boxes that appear around the city in the winter time. Although I lived in the city from 1985 - 1991, I somehow don’t have any recollection of the things. What makes them a big story this year is the contributions of some creative citizen artists.

Baltimore artist Juliet Ames was inspired to give new life to a salt box in Hamden, and was relieved and gratified that the powers that be gave their approval for her efforts. You can read more here, plus see a sampling of the artistically enhanced salt boxes. As an added bonus, Ms. Ames offers a free printable coloring page for kids to design their own salt box. The winner will have their design painted in the Fall of 2021. 

In the past two months, more than 100 of the decorated salt boxes have appeared around Baltimore, including more than 25 adorned by Ames herself. The boxes celebrate such iconic Baltimore figures as the filmmaker John Waters, the Natty Boh logo and the googly-eyed Mr. Trash Wheel.

What I love about this is that it isn’t just the work of one person. It’s an all-out movement. A citizen’s movement. If you’re interested in finding where they are located, Robert Atkinson has mapped them out for you. Follow him on Instagram @Baltimore.saltbox to see photos of the area’s saltbox creations. 

Now, with more winter weather on the way, it’s not surprising that I have salt boxes on the brain. We don’t have them here in Columbia/HoCo, although my HOA puts small bins out every year in each parking lot by the mailboxes. Sadly they are heavy duty plastic totes which look unsuitable for artistic transformation.

What we do have are hydrants. Remember those? I got very excited last year trying to spread enthusiasm for a county initiative to “adopt a hydrant.”

The gist of the plan was to recruit citizens who would take on the responsibility of shoveling out their adopted hydrant each time it snowed, thus assuring its accessibility if needed by firefighters. Makes sense.

However...although the initiative offered some possibilities for creativity through the creation of digitally enhanced photographs, it stopped short of allowing the kind of artistic free rein which has been the hallmark of the Baltimore Salt Box craze. 

**Important note; fire hydrants are the property of the Howard County Bureau of Utilities — so please do not paint, personalize or change the appearance of the fire hydrant. ** 

I don’t know how many takers they’ve had. There have been some, as evidenced by this tweet from the Howard County Fire and EMS account. I suspect it hasn’t been as widely successful as what’s happening in Baltimore. Maybe if they’d allowed hydrant adopters to go all out and put their own personal touches on their hydrants the results might have been more favorable.

But then, we’re not Baltimore, as folks on social media are fond of ranting. Quirky painted fire hydrants might be that last straw which puts us on the slippery slope to citification. One has to draw the line somewhere. Still, I think it might be fun.

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