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Revitalizing their community through public art

By Keith Spencer

kspencer@nobomagazine.com

During my many visits to Malden over the last month, I’ve meandered and wandered the downtown district and into the neighborhoods of this unique community.

As I approached many intersections, I often found myself captivated while stopped at the light or standing on the corner. A formerly drab, yellow or metallic street-side switch box had been turned into an artist’s canvas.

Sure, I had seen projects like this before in hipster communities like Somerville, but not in Malden. If you are an artist, art lover, or arts advocate, Malden may in fact offer the budding colony you never expected just a mile north of the city.

In 2006, a group of like-minded Malden artists banded together an effort to build a community, to revitalize their city, and to strengthen community bonds. Today, this grassroots organization is Malden Arts.

“We knew that the public would respond in a positive way,’’ said Naomi Brave, a volunteer project coordinator for Malden Arts. “I truly believe that when the public needs experiences art out in their community, they further develop an appreciation and pride for the space in which they work or live.”

The group’s goal is “to bring art to the public and the public to the art”, and their most recent project has truly done just that. The group has undertaken the heavy task of transforming each and every street-side utility box into a work of art

Inspired by communities likes Somerville and Cambridge, Brave and coordinators at the Malden Arts believed the Switchbox Project would not only foster an appreciation for art but further develop an appreciation and pride for the community, its neighborhoods, and its culture.

“We really believe the project gives the community a sense of personality and warmth,” Brave noted. “From the Converse All-Star that I painted to reflect the city’s rich history to the delicious dishes of Malden, you really get a taste for our city when you encounter these pieces of art.”

Working with a map of all of the eligible switchboxes in the city, Malden Arts matched artists with switchboxes as applications and designs were initially submitted. Each decision was based on several factors, including the need and visibility of the site while also considering the artist, the location, and the proposed design.

While artists could request specific boxes, matches were not guaranteed.

“What has also been so great about this project is the willingness of our talented local artists to get involved and work with us,” Brave added. “So many of them have been willing to work with us in their designs and placements where this is such a public project.”

“Better yet, they’re out there speaking with residents, discussing their designs and their meanings, and encouraging pride in both the arts and Malden.”

This isn’t the group’s first success. Matching local artists with downtown businesses for a three-week juried public art exhibit, Window Arts Malden won a gold star award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and has been fostering appreciation for the arts since 2006.

The group also hosts popular open-ended forums four times a year, providing opportunities for camaraderie, networking, and collaboration for those interested in further arts initiatives in Malden.

“We’ve worked hard to develop a strong community presence with all our programs, especially the Switchbox program. We now have daily reminders out in the community to keep residents aware of the space in which they live,” Brave concluded.

“Malden Arts is poised to continue to influence and revitalize the City of Malden for years to come.”

According to Brave, a total of 34 have been painted since launching the project, and there are no plans in stopping any time soon. There are nearly 70 switchboxes at intersections scattered across the city.

“Since starting the project a little more than two years ago, we’ve accomplished a lot, but I look at it as only begin half way to the finish line. I don’t see us stopping the project anytime soon.”

If you are an artist who lives or works in Malden, the group accepts applications for Switchbox designs on a rolling basis, offering a $150 honorarium to approved artists.

An application with full details can be downloaded here. All completed applications should be emailed to Naomi Brave at nbrave8@gmail.com. For more information, please call 781-330-9053.

For those readers looking to support the Malden Arts Switchbox initiative, the group has also produced a reasonably priced wall calendar featuring twelve of the first year’s switchboxes painted. All proceeds will be used to further arts initiatives in Malden.

To order, please call 781-330-9053 or 781-710-5554. You may also mail the form available on their website to Malden Arts P.O. Box 334, Malden, MA 02148 or purchase the calendar online.

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To learn more about the Malden Arts, please visit their website.

To learn more about the Switchbox program, please click here.

To browse the Malden Arts artist listing, please click here.

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