Public Art Project Transforms Railroad Utility Boxes

Cvu Rail Nola Photo Release

The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad (NOPB) has teamed up with Community Visions Unlimited (CVU) to transform two railroad utility boxes into public art on display along the Mississippi River. The boxes are located near St. Peter Street and Dumaine Street. They were painted by artist Madi Hannan.

“The artwork is a fun way of calling attention to the role that freight traveling by rail and handled through our Port has shaped Louisiana’s history and will continue to shape its future,” said Brandy D. Christian, CEO of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad Corporation and President and CEO of the Port of New Orleans. “We’re happy to partner with CVU to add some vibrancy to our urban railroad.”

The two new installations mark more than 210 public art projects in metro New Orleans completed by CVU, a community organization that is focused on projects that beautify neighborhoods and eliminate blight.

The Art Box project started during the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, when CVU’s founder Jeannie Paddison Tidy moved back to her hometown to help her daughter rebuild in the Lakeview neighborhood. She noticed a traffic utility box in the neighborhood that she thought could use some artwork.

Though Tidy is not an artist herself, she says she is thankful to live in a community that appreciates artwork and is excited that the installations inspire community pride. While utility boxes are normally magnets for graffiti in urban environments, only one of the art boxes has been vandalized after it was transformed into art. “It reduces graffiti, and it reduces litter,” says Tidy. “Improving your neighborhood has to start somewhere, and it’s the little things that make a big difference.”

The two NOPB boxes are larger than the typical utility box that CVU has been involved in painting. The project was the first time that CVU completed art boxes associated with a railroad and the first project along the Mississippi River.

The woman behind the paintbrush for the NOPB boxes is Madi Hannan, a high school science teacher at Mount Carmel Academy with a passion for art. She has painted two other art box installations, one downtown and one on the West Bank. Hannan said she wanted these pieces to be colorful and to highlight the magical colors of the sunset on the Mississippi River.

“I was so grateful that I was able to paint the art boxes,” said Hannan. “I was on the river and the musicians were playing around me, and I could see St. Louis Cathedral. I just felt like I was part of the city.”

About 80 artists have enrolled to design art boxes with CVU. When CVU has identified a box for an art installation, it puts out the call among these artists to submit a design. A design committee, the box’s owner and/or community organizations choose the design.

Volunteers prep the boxes by cleaning and priming them, and CVU provides the artists with the paints to complete the art work. CVU raises money and writes grants to pay the artists for their work.

The commission for the artwork on NOPB’s boxes was paid for in part by the NOPB and in part by CVU. Tidy says the artwork gives the artists exposure, with several artists placing their artwork in respected galleries after producing their art box.