Art Watch: ‘Irvington Turns Up Freaks & Strange Things’

The most unusual murals in town might spread to your neighborhood.

Most drivers don’t even notice the signal boxes positioned at their stoplights. The gray squares along the side of the road only offer assurance that, eventually, the light will turn green.

But in Irvington, signal boxes offer a little more: art.

Urban intersections are about as random a place as you can get for art displays. Aaron Story and Vishant Shah, co-founders of Foundation East, turned the idea into reality after East District police officers attended a national conference called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.

Recruited artists drew their inspiration from the neighborhood. Rita Spalding’s work at Washington Street and Emerson Avenue honors William Forsyth, an artist who lived at that intersection in the early 1900s. Laura Hildreth’s vintage scene of the area’s Butler days is at the corner of Washington Street and Ritter Avenue. The eye-catching box offers drivers entering Irvington’s commercial area a glimpse of its past.

The team didn’t know how much the community cared about the 20 boxes until a few of them were vandalized in 2013.

“Boxes were tagged, and [Spalding] got a couple thousand hits on social media,” Shah says. Some residents even wanted to install cameras to discourage vandalism. “It’s good testimony to what can happen when people who love their neighborhood come together,” Story says.

Foundation East wrapped up its work at the end of 2014, and the boxes received a protective clear coat to last them through the next few years. But Shah hopes their vision doesn’t end there. “The city and the Arts Council are about to start a signal box program. It would have all the specs, everything you’d need to do it,” he says. “In part, that’s because of us.”