Back on the Streets

’Butterflies’ by Kate Kavanagh. Located St. Vincent’s Private Hospital, Merrion Road, D4. Source: Dublin Canvas

Brian Quinn

Dublin Canvas ready to brighten up the Capital this summer.
You can bump into a lot of colourful characters while walking through Dublin, now more than ever. On a single outing, you could cross paths with a mermaid, James Joyce, a giant squirrel and a French mime. Icons, animals and colour combined. No, this isn’t a fever dream; it’s the result of over five years of hard work orchestrated by Dublin Canvas, a community art project intended to bring flashes of creativity to everyday objects within Dublin’s streetscape.

Since 2015, Dublin Canvas has transformed the capital into a walking gallery of public art by reimagining the city’s copious traffic light control boxes. Hundreds of artists from all walks of life have taken part in the project to date, and this year will be no different. Having sent a callout for entries in April, Dublin Canvas aims to create 100 new works across the county by the end of the summer, bringing their grand total to 600. The deadline for submissions was May 21, with the selection process taking place between May 24 and June 18. The chosen artists will then undertake the works from early July until late August.

‘Less Grey, More Play’, reads the Dublin Canvas slogan, a sentiment which has taken on deeper meaning in recent times. Before May 10, which saw most of Ireland’s galleries and museums reopen after a four month closure, Dublin Canvas’ Technicolour boxes seemed to be the only thing stopping Dublin from looking like a monochrome metropolis. Showcasing the county’s diverse voices, the works often cover a variety of themes: social, historical, playful, political. But no matter what’s on show, they are always pulsing with colour.

‘Dublin Soup’ by Tara O’Brien. Located on Eglinton Rd/Donnybrook Rd junction. D4. Photo by Kevin O’Gorman

Still, while the project aims to celebrate local cultures and characters, its origins are a lot more global. David Murtagh, the Project Co-Ordinator, first conceived of Dublin Canvas while backpacking through Australia in 2006. Artforce Brisbane, launched in 1999, like Dublin Canvas is a community art programme that gives local residents the opportunity to paint their original artworks on traffic signal boxes around the city’s suburbs. Murtagh was so enamoured with what he saw that he took the idea back to Dublin and immediately got to work. “We had a small pilot project up and running in Temple Bar by 2008,” he told Eolas Magazine in 2018. ”It was pretty successful and we were hoping to build on that, but with the crash there was just no money for public art.”

It wasn’t until 2015, with the backing of the Dublin City Council, that Murtagh began painting the town. Starting with 15 boxes dotted along Rathmines, Camden Street, Baggot Street, Dublin Canvas has now spread across the entire county, brightening our street corners and promoting the creativity of our residents. For many, me included, these quirky boxes became a cultural lifeline during lockdown, helping us to look forward to a brighter future. 

One piece in particular, Butterflies by Kate Kavanagh, is a shining example of the positive initiative. Along the Merrion Road, next to the St Vincent’s Private Hospital, stands her multicolored monument to hope. “I created the image of a wide variety of butterflies emerging from their cocoons to reflect how we are all emerging from the covid 19 lockdown in a very positive way,” she tells us. “It is an image of emergence and hope … and summer.”