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Murals so good you can almost taste them

BID celebrates Boston cuisine on painted utility boxes

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Murals so good you can almost taste them
Artist Khyle Parke’s utility box for the Tasteful Boston project. PHOTOS: CELINA COLBY

Earlier this month, 12 regional artists transformed utility boxes in downtown Boston into enigmatic visual representations of Boston’s culinary history. Organized by the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District (BID), the display ranges from Chinatown through the Financial District and into Government Center.

“These beautiful, whimsical and surprising ‘Tasteful Boston’ installations remind us that our art, our neighborhood and our city’s rich culinary traditions are alive and ready to bounce back,” says Downtown Boston BID President and CEO Rosemarie Sansone. At a time when restaurants are suffering due to COVID-19 restrictions, these portraits celebrate the food that has been bringing Bostonians together for decades.

Khyle Parke at work on his utility box. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TASTEFUL BOSTON

Khyle Parke at work on his utility box. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TASTEFUL BOSTON

Artist Khyle Parke went all out on his box in Downtown Crossing, with representations of Mike’s Pastry, Boston Bowl, Kelly’s Roast Beef and Fenway Park. This design was inspired by the MBTA. “The colors are Red, Green, Blue, and Orange for the MBTA and the places that are very close to them,” he says. Parke has memories of his first bite at each location, from waiting in line at Mike’s (he assures it was worth it) to the excitement of a Fenway frank. “I hope it will make people realize, ‘Oh this is close to this area.’” The utility box will serve not only as a piece of public art, but also as a visual food guide for visitors to Boston.

The art pieces also illustrate the diversity of foods found on Boston’s streets. Artist Ngoc-Tran Vu celebrated Vietnamese food by painting ingredients commonly paired with a warm and comforting bowl of pho. Robyn Thompson-Duong painted a delectable spread of cuisines, including Ethiopian food, ramen and lobster rolls. Howie Green’s box is an explosive, pop-art-style ode to candy, in all its brightly colored, sugary goodness.

All three of these artists are Dorchester-based, bringing a strong representation of the neighborhood into the downtown-area project.

The 12 artists and their proposals were chosen by a panel of judges from nearly 50 applicants. BID organizers and the artists hope the artworks will encourage passersby to safely enjoy some of these foods while they’re downtown and appreciate the city’s multifaceted culture. “I believe adding art like this will remind people that Boston has a lot of things going on,” says Parke. “I hope that people connect with my piece, that it springs up memories and that they may want to revisit those places.”

The boxes are a colorful, artistic reminder that supporting local restaurants is especially crucial to their survival right now. In a powerful creative gesture, two industries that have been hit hard — arts and hospitality — come together to celebrate each other.