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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs has announced its annual traffic box art competition. The project is done in an effort to deter graffiti and tagging on the traffic signal boxes downtown. The city said it becomes costly to clean up.

A local painter, JoMerra Watson, said street art is rich in culture.

"I think street art definitely reflects the culture. I know there's a cliche that says 'does art imitate life or does life imitate art?' and I think that street culture definitely encompasses that," Watson said. "Things that you're going to put on the side of a building or on a post, public art in general, has a different context than art that is viewed in museums. Street art is for the people."

Elise Buchheit, program specialist at the office of cultural affairs, said she also believes there's a bright side to public art.

"People from all different kinds of backgrounds are walking the same downtown streets, the traffic box art is just an opportunity for a bright spot in people's day," Buchheit said.

Watson also acknowledged that art sometimes makes people uncomfortable, but it takes a lot of courage for artists to put it on display.

"I'm so proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and really trying to understand what I'm doing as an artist."

The traffic box art program started in 2007, and there are now 12 decorated boxes. But Buccheit said each new box adds a new vitality to The District and downtown Columbia. 

As for Watson, she hopes the program inspires other artists to keep growing in their craft, and she wants to see a change in local views of art.

"I would tell a person who thinks that art has no value to just stop for a second and look around them because it's literally everywhere," Watson said. "I think that the value of art in itself is the people that produce it because they do have minds that work a little bit differently."

According to the Office of Cultural Affairs, the traffic box art contest winner receives $1500 and an additional $500 for paint and supplies. The deadline to enter the competition is March 23, 2018 at 5 p.m.

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