They usually go unnoticed, but adding a little color and a dash of creativity from local artists is turning a neighborhood eyesore into much more.
There was a time when murals and street art were used to combat graffiti, but the new program in Minneapolis has a more unified approach to dressing up a common target for vandals while showcasing the talents of the community.
"It makes you appreciate how beautiful they are, all the colors they have," said Judy Labuszewski, one of the many artists living in Minneapolis and vying to showcase her work on a box near you. "I think it will help make something really unattractive look attractive and it will also give an opportunity for local artists to show their artwork without really having to invest too much in it."
Community artists have been painting and wrapping utility boxes for the past five years, but the process of agreeing on a design and getting it approved can be time-consuming.
"My entries would be very local in a sense of public transit," Labuszewski said.
As a resident of the Longfellow neighborhood, Labuszewski has been working on a series about the light rail that she hopes would inspire future riders -- but there are hundreds of boxes across the city, and the city is looking for a dozen designs to be used throughout.
"They're big, they're at prominent locations on street corners, and they tend to get tagged and graffiti a lot," said Public Arts Administrator Mary Altman.
Yet, Altman says she believes there will be less temptation for taggers if the box isn't a blank canvas.
"I think taggers really tend to like the art and they leave it alone," Altman said.
In total, 12 artists will be selected -- and each will receive an honorarium of $1,000 and their designs could be in place for about five years.
"It's a small project but it's going to have a big impact," Altman said. "These wraps could be everywhere."
The deadline for entries is Wednesday, April 17. Each artist can submit up to three designs, but they must work or live in Minneapolis to be eligible.
"There are a lot of great artists in Phillips, Stevens Square," Labuszewski said. "All of those areas have their own boxes and they have artists that want to express themselves."
Ultimately, the neighborhood association picks up the tab for wrapping the utility boxes, which runs about $5 per square foot.