(April 30, 2021) A walking tour to see utility boxes would not typically rank high on a list of things to do in a resort town.
But in Ocean City, where things like smiling swordfish, prancing carousel horses and splashing dolphins adorn 32 of the otherwise unassuming gray boxes from one end of the town to the other, the activity becomes much more appealing.
In a push to promote the public art aspect of the painted boxes, Ocean City Development Corporation officials have created a handy map that residents and tourists can use to see the pieces and explore places they may otherwise overlook.
“There are a total of 32 painted utility boxes listed with addresses on the OCDC walking tour brochure,” OCDC Executive Director Glenn Irwin said this week via email. “However, 18 of these boxes can be viewed in a loop walk between N. Division Street and the inlet. Many of these utility boxes have been repainted from the original public art so that actual number of boxes painted over the years has been much more than the 32 paintings.”
OCDC spearheaded the utility box painting project roughly 16 years ago, tapping volunteers from the Art League of Ocean City, community organizations, and local schools and businesses to create the pieces.
“The response from the general public and artists has been fantastic,” Irwin said. “It’s a win-win for everyone. It has been fairly easy to find sponsors for these painted boxes, the artists get great exposure, and the public [gets to] see ... nice artwork on most corners of downtown Ocean City.”
The project not only creates something appealing to look at but also deters people from painting graffiti on the boxes, Irwin added.
To add to the project, Irwin said OCDC officials plan to paint at least three more utility boxes this summer
Overall, the project is one of many that make up the organization’s public art program.
“The visual art that OCDC completes is very important to the Ocean City community,” Irwin said. “It reinforces who we are as a community and celebrates this lifestyle. All our utility boxes have an Ocean City or Eastern Shore theme to them. Our Ocean City public art involved painted utility boxes, sculptures, wall murals, wall panels, and artistic paver art. It is located throughout the downtown area. Whereas most of it is easy to find, other public art pops up in the most unexpected places, like on sidewalks and alleys.”
To learn more about OCDC’s public art program and follow the walking tour to see the decorated utility boxes visit ocdc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/ArtOutsideTheBox_Online.pdf.