If you do any driving in New Orleans, I guarantee you’ve noticed the growing number of painted signal boxes. At the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Freret Street it’s Fats Domino. At Poydras Street by the Superdome you’ll find the Saints Whistlemonster. On Gentilly Boulevard and Paris Avenue there’s a tree of Louisiana wildlife. Veterans and Edenborn avenues depicts pigs wearing Mardi Gras costumes. You can find them on the East Bank, West Bank, Uptown, Downtown, Gentilly, Kenner, Metairie and St. Bernard Parish. Like me, have you been wondering who is making our lives a little more beautiful at intersections around town?
It is Community Visions Unlimited (CVUNOLA), launched in 1994 as a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing New Orleans neighborhoods through beautification, housing and empowerment. Founded to be a resource for citizens to encourage homeownership, promote business development, sponsor community beautification and encourage community projects, their initial focus was transforming blighted neighborhoods. Early work in Faubourg St. John addressed the more than 100 vacant, blighted buildings; through CVUNOLA’s efforts, more than 15 properties were restored. In three years over 78 projects were completed, a police detail implemented and three community gardens installed. Momentum was gaining in their community work, and then Hurricane Katrina arrived on the Gulf Coast.
After living away, CVUNOLA Founder and native New Orleanian Jeannie Tidy moved back to New Orleans in 2006 to join the rebuilding efforts. Those early post-Katrina days working in Lakeview planting trees and making temporary street signs reminded her of an electrical box beautification project in California she’d encountered, and she decided New Orleans would be the perfect place to replicate the program.
In 2010, CVUNOLA painted their first box at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Canal Boulevard. The project took off, now boasting 203 painted electrical boxes, three telephone boxes and one outdoor piano completed, with a goal to paint all 400 boxes in Orleans Parish over the next few years. An unexpected but welcome outcome is that art enhanced boxes rarely receive graffiti and have even helped prevent littering in the surrounding areas!
How does it work? Interested neighborhoods contact CVUNOLA’s volunteer board, which has access to 80 local artists capable of creating specialized themes for each box through collaboration with neighborhood representatives and CVUNOLA’s art committee. They manage the artists, furnish a weather resistant paint kit and honorarium through the implementation and then provide continued maintenance of each project. Funding is dependent on individual contributions, grants and an annual fundraiser.
With growing demand, CVUNOLA is grateful for any financial or volunteer support to further their mission, and is set up to receive donations through CVUNOLA.org.
Aimed at creating beauty and economic development through works of art, CVUNOLA links the rich art heritage that thrives in our New Orleans neighborhoods to instill pride, support local artists and revitalize our community – one painted signal box at a time.
What’s being said about CVUNOLA:
“I would like to thank you for your great work throughout the city to beautify the electrical box eyesores and to help spread love and community through art. We appreciated working with you and your team to notify local artists and identify artwork that most appropriately expresses our neighborhood.” – Englewood Park Neighborhood Association
“We contacted CVU and within the month a prominent signal box in our area was transformed from eyesore to art. The signal box at Apricot Street and Carrollton Avenue, before painted by CVU, was a magnet for miscellaneous fliers, graffiti and vandalism. It is now an attractive asset for the community and a source of pride for the neighborhood.” – Northwest Carrollton Association