How to paint a traffic utility box on an Irish street corner

A beginner’s guide to getting creative with those junction boxes you see everywhere

When is graffiti not graffiti?

When it’s street art ... Street art is graffiti that has put its wild years behind it and settled down to a comfortable, socially acceptable existence. You’ll find plenty who disagree but never mind. So how do you get involved? One way is through Dublin Canvas. Dublin City Council’s Siobhán Maher and Dave Murtagh have been involved since the project began in 2015.

Dublin Canvas?

Running under the headline “Less grey, more play”, artists are commissioned to paint the city’s traffic utility boxes. The project began as a way to address graffiti; according to Maher, the cost of repainting a box is about €90, and some had to be touched up on a weekly basis. Within the street art community the theory goes that you have to be better than what’s there to paint over it, so you don’t tag other people’s work. Going further, Dublin Canvas is also a way to brighten up the streets with, as Maher says, “little nuggets of fun, comedy, cuteness, and comment in pictorial form”.

Do you have to be an artist to take part?

Not at all. Dublin Canvas alumni include baristas to barristers, students to the active retired, renowned street artists to Sunday painters. An open call goes out every March with a closing date in May. Applicants send in an image of the artwork they want to realise, with a title, description and a biography, as well as their preferred location. A judging panel take a look and the successful artists get down to it in August.

Fame and fortune?

You’re not exactly going to get rich painting junction boxes. Dublin City Council see it as a community project but they do have a budget to cover costs. A team from the council prime the boxes to give you a good start, and participants get all their materials, plus €200 to cover expenses — or €250 if they’re using their own paints. Paint choice is important. As your work may be out in all weathers for one to three years, you want to make sure your colours aren’t going to run in the rain, or flake in the heat.


Anything does not go

While a quick scamper through a gallery of past projects makes it look like anything and everything goes: from friendly dogs to giant crayon boxes, sporting heroes to rock gods, positive affirmations to homages to Cabra; you are not allowed to paint anything that might frighten the horses. “The objective is to support creativity, so we try not to be restrictive, but there is guidance in the brief: no political, religious or discriminatory content,” Maher confirms.

Is it just a Dublin thing?

You’ll find similar projects in Galway and Cork, with versions popping up in Limerick, Kildare and more, so your best route is to contact your local authority arts officer or Creative Ireland coordinator. “It has touched hearts and minds,” says Maher. “Kids watch out for the newly painted boxes appearing every summer, and the feel-good factor they deliver is immeasurable: to those who paint, and to the communities they sit in.” Start dreaming now for 2023 and sign up at

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton contributes to The Irish Times on art, architecture and other aspects of culture