Chorus’ cabinet art project has dramatically reduced graffiti and given around 200 New Zealand artists a public canvas for their work.
Paul Walsh just wanted to paint outside. But while his street art had plenty of admirers, it wasn’t so well received by the owners of his chosen canvases.
“I’ve been painting for 20 years and I’ve always done a bit outdoors, but I didn’t really have an avenue to do it legally,” says the 37-year-old.
That was until we tracked him down in 2013.
Paul had featured in the news after his prominent painting of Grumpy Cat (of internet-meme fame) was removed from the side of a concrete silo in Auckland.
We contacted Paul and gave him artistic licence to transform some local Chorus cabinets. These are metal enclosures that house connection points for our copper and fibre networks.
When left blank, the cabinets are tempting targets for taggers. And with graffiti removal across all Chorus assets costing more than $300,000 a year, it made sense to try something new to solve the problem. So in 2010, the cabinet art project was born.
This creative approach to tackling graffiti turned out to be a winner. Cabinets that had been repeatedly tagged were now looking great – and staying that way. We extended the project across New Zealand and partnered with more artists, including Paul.
The Three Kings, Auckland, resident has now brightened more than 20 Chorus cabinets with his work, and enjoys mixing with the locals while he paints.
“Painting’s a really lonely, solitary thing. I’ve always had exhibitions when I could, but it limits how you can get your art in front of people. Paintings in public places get more attention than anything,” says Paul.
“Now that I’ve done a few around Auckland, people who recognise my other murals come up and tell me which are their favourites, or which ones they live near. People are embracing them as part of the landscape.”
The project isn’t limited to New Zealand’s concrete jungles. Artists have beautified cabinets in Masterton, Hastings, Nelson, Porirua, Invercargill, Levin, Whangarei, Rotorua, Palmerston North and Ashburton, as well as Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington.
Those behind the work include a Kiwi artist based in New York, who completed more than 200 murals during visits to New Zealand (including three in Ashburton, one in Masterton, 10 in Christchurch and 190 in Hamilton). A young offender from Levin was given the chance to paint a cabinet after police identified him as having potential to turn his life around. A number of school students have also given cabinets a makeover, with Chorus supplying the painting materials.
To help withstand sun, wind and rain, artists use paint designed for the outdoors and apply graffiti guard on top to protect their work.
Some embrace a theme for their murals. Rotorua artist Chris Newman, 33, painted a series of cabinets depicting local legends, such as aviator Jean Batten, entertainer Sir Howard Morrison, and shot put champion Valerie Adams.
“I thought it would be nice to recognise local individuals who had gone on to make a name for themselves in their chosen field,” says Chris.
Each cabinet takes him about a week to complete, or longer if the weather is poor or the sun is too hot, as paint dries too fast in summer heat.
The cabinets have quickly become popular icons in Kiwi communities, and make good talking points too, says Chris.
“The artworks have been really well received by the locals. When I’m painting, people stop for a chat either about the Chorus project or to talk about how they know the person in the mural.
“In Sir Howard Morrison’s case, his sister drove past, turned back around and came over to me absolutely elated that her brother had been chosen!”
The cabinet art project is still going strong, with more artwork in the pipeline across the country. Keep an eye out for new murals in your neighbourhood, or on our Facebook page.