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One man’s art is another man’s graffiti…Or Black is the New Black

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One of the finished commissioned electrical boxes

by Joyce Rowley

When the Department of Infrastructure painted all the electrical boxes black last summer, Councilor Joe Lopes couldn’t believe it.

Lopes had commissioned artists to paint two boxes, one on Rte. 18 and one in front of the Portuguese Club in the South End of New Bedford, based on a similar project downtown—and paid $250 each. The one on Rte. 18 was painted over, the other “survived” Lopes said due to the protection of club members when the DPI crew went after it.

Commissioner Ron Labelle denied it had anything to do with the “third floor” of City Hall as Lopes had claimed, though.

“I was given the task to remove graffiti,” said Labelle Wednesday at the City Council Appointments and Briefings Committee. “I take full responsibility.”

Calling graffiti a “scourge on the City,” Labelle said he went after it with a vengeance. In July he ordered his crews to paint all the City-owned electrical boxes black, a neutral color that wouldn’t stand out. “The men did a good job,” Labelle said.

Commissioner Ron Labelle’s finished product

One of the painted-over boxes was at the corner of Williams and Purchase opposite Café Arpeggio. That, however, was not graffiti but was painted by an artist-led teen program out of ArtWorks!, the local artist cooperative on Acushnet Avenue, New Bedford.

The painting had been part of a weeks-long outreach program, said Noelle Foye, New Bedford Art Museum/ ArtWorks! director. The project cost about $9,000 all told, but that included designing the project, creating a prototype, and painting the electrical box. It also included $500 for a graffiti-proof coating.

“Getting the kids involved gets them invested in it and the word gets out—don’t mess with that, it’s our art, we did that,” Foye told the Council. She said the program had been paid for with some of the City’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, and if they were available again, ArtWorks! would sponsor another outreach class painting project this summer.

Labelle apologized to the artists and the groups involved in the projects. Still, Labelle was not convinced it was a good idea.

“The arbitrary way young men and young women paint something that doesn’t belong to them is inappropriate,” Labelle said. “My concern is that by allowing this, it can send the wrong message. One person’s view of artistry may encourage vandalism. I appreciate what they’re doing. I hope it doesn’t promote something we aren’t happy with later on.”

But the Council agreed with Lopes that involving the City’s youth helped rather than caused a problem.

Councilor-at-large Linda Morad pointed to the Campbell School mural performed by students with ArtWorks! six years ago. “That mural has not been targeted once,” Morad said. Councilor-at-large Carny agreed.

“Now it’s time to get the kids involved in the community,” Carney said. “I think it’s going to beautify the City.”

The Council voted 11-0 to request that Director Pat Sullivan, Office of Housing and Community Development , seek CDBG funds for a similar ArtWorks! youth engagement project in FY2015.


About Joyce Rowley

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13 comments

  1. mean old assholes like ron labelle should be replaced with enthusiastic people who love their job and community

  2. I was very proud of the beautiful artwork depicting our AMERICAN FLAG in front of the Portuguese Club in the South End. I embraced it every time I drove by! Why would ANYONE want to cover it, or any other improvement to the city ? The fact that it involved our youth, and was sponsored makes it even more special, and a unique idea that should be ENCOURAGED.

  3. New Bedford continuously speaks about being welcoming to the art community and how this partnership will help development within the city. It seems this action was in direct opposition of that claim. I do agree that targeting the random, gang related, or just plain disrespectful graffiti is paramount as it is unsettling and an eye sore that could intimidate visitors. However, to think that these images were confused for graffiti is preposterous. These random pops of art throughout the city give us an eclectic vibe that is uplifting. From the whales on the side of rte. 18, to the gentlemen “sitting” on the side of the pharmacy on William St., and the milk bottles down Acushnet Ave., these images can brighten a day with their playfulness and artistic expression. I say let’s commission more pieces and really encourage the artist that are helping to lead a revitalization in our beloved waterfront community.

  4. Perhaps sanctioned art could be labeled as such. The artist(s) could paint it in as part of the design.

  5. I’m shocked that Ron Labelle was actually around to make a statement. Every time I try to contact him he is on vacation and will not return for 1-2 weeks. He gets paid a lot of money for a job he’s barely here to perform. Any reasonable person would not have painted over the artwork. I think what most likely happened was Mr. Labelle ordered all graffiti to be removed. When the DPI crew came to one of the painted electrical boxes they tried asking Mr. Labelle for clarification as to wether the artwork was considered graffiti. Mr. Labelle being on vacation either didn’t respond or simply hand waved the question and replied “just paint everything”

  6. Not one person sticking up for Mr. Ron Labelle? You’d think maybe at least his mom would put in a good word here.

    #fireronlabelle

    Step up, New Bedford.

  7. Once again someone’s wants to punish everyone else because idiots might not now how to handle seeing artistically painted boxes. If the idiots are continuously allowed to indirectly dictate the rules, we’ll have nothing but idiotic rules.

  8. Absolutely outrageous! That Commissoned Artwork gives the city some character and gives pride.This teaches kids that if you follow the rules by asking permission to paint things the right thing to do.The city lost money on top of it.I’m sorry this was bad form.

  9. I’ve been to Chicago on several occasions, the city is engulfed in art. Many of the neighborhoods have beautiful works of street art that make the entire city as a whole more welcoming. If New Bedford took on this mentality, I think it could truly be a beautiful thing.

  10. I agree . The art looks great around the city and it gives it character. I’m all for it.

  11. probably just a case of the right hand not talking to the left. Too bad the city can’t just admit that. Ron Labelle may just be the fall guy.

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