Somerville artists transform abandoned phone boxes into public art

On October 26, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

As cell phone use increases, phone booths have lost their purpose, but many still remain forgotten on urban streets. So what’s a city to do with abandoned phone boxes on sidewalks and building walls? The City of Somerville’s answer is: Turn them into public art—then hold a roving citywide art opening to celebrate the creative works made for The Phone Art Box Project.

At the behest of Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, The Nave Gallery and the Somerville Arts Council teamed up to recruit the city’s industrious public artists to transform what was once just urban clutter into public art that both surprises and engages passersby.  All are invited to the opening of The Phone Art Box Project on Sunday, Oct. 27, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for a tour of the first five completed phone art boxes. Follow Mayor Curtatone from box to box for mini-openings with refreshments at each box, or visit any box during the two-hour event at your leisure. Artists inspired by the display may apply to create additional art boxes. Artists receive an honorarium.

This thoughtful public art project takes on the re-purposing a rapidly disappearing material culture—the once ubiquitous phone booth.

“Yet again, a public art project that makes sense for Somerville. We’ve taken an unused public space—the abandoned phone booth—and brought it to life.  With all of our public art projects, we strive to be responsive to artists’ needs and their energy in the community.  This is another perfect example,” said Gregory Jenkins, Director of Somerville Arts Council.

Though each artist began with roughly the same raw materials—a roughly 2-by-3-foot abandoned call box—the results vary from an imaginary urban landscape to “Phone Fossil,” a monument to outdated technology, and even includes a functioning mini book-lending library. Participating artists include, Joe Barillaro, Gary Duehr, Pauline Lim, Rachel Mello, and James Fox and Akil Williams of the Friends of the Somerville Public Library.

“Art lovers can always expect the unexpected on the streets of Somerville. The Phone Art Box Project continues a long line of innovative public art driven by the desire of local artists to display their work, engage their community and improve their city,” said Susan Berstler, Director, Nave Gallery/Nave Annex.

“We are not just lucky to have such a high concentration of artists in our city, with that resource comes a responsibility on the city’s part to engage local artists in creating public art for all to enjoy because public art that you stumble upon can sometimes be the most powerful,” said Mayor Curtatone. “Somerville isn’t just a great place to live, work, play and raise a family. It’s a great place to let public art surprise you, startle you out of your usual day, and inspire you to reflect on the world around you, and the Phone Art Box Project is an exciting contribution to that.”

Please join Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone to kick off this project and to tour five completed phone booth projects. The tour will start at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 27th, at the booth of Rachel Mello at the corner of Highland Ave. and Vinal Ave. and will continue to booths in Ball and Davis Square. For a full listing of the finished phone art booths and how to submit to create a booth go to: or .


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