Amie Bantz is constantly doodling.
“I never thought it would take off, but it’s evolved into my style,” said the 25-year old Carlisle High School art teacher.
Her latest doodles combine iconic images of Carlisle into a playful landscape across an unlikely canvas—one of the town’s electrical boxes.
“Amie’s artwork is vibrant and captures the story of Carlisle in a unique way,” said Greg Guenther, 33, founder and president of the nonprofit Color Carlisle. “It condenses all the features of Carlisle, all the things people love about Carlisle.”
Look closely, and you can pick out the classic architecture of Dickinson College, the old courthouse, Carlisle Theatre, Massey’s Frozen Custard and more landmarks from Cumberland County’s seat—all ideas that stemmed from brainstorming sessions Bantz held with her teenaged students.
Bantz and five additional artists, chosen from 15 applicants, worked street-side recently during Carlisle’s week-long Summerfair.
“There were three older gentlemen who lived in the neighborhood, who were a little skeptical of my work at first,” Bantz said. “But during their daily walks, they got to see the entire [artistic] process, and we started to form relationships. They would even check up on me and bring me water.”
The streetscape art initiative was given the name “Art While You Wait” because Color Carlisle chose six street corner electrical boxes along highly trafficked pedestrian crosswalks. A bonus seventh box was decorated on August’s First Friday.
The grassroots arts organization formed in late 2016. You could say that their mission, creating public art to unify residents, is electrifying the community. Operating under the umbrella of the Downtown Carlisle Association, Color Carlisle raised $10,000 in its first three months of existence and established numerous partnerships.
Their first project, a mural, involved 25 Carlisle High School art students, under the direction of artist-in-residence Ophelia Chambliss and Ashley Gogoj, a Carlisle High art teacher and Color Carlisle’s vice president. It was installed on the bricks of St. Paul Lutheran Church’s back wall in the spring of 2018.
Guenther said that the group is targeting one major public art initiative a year—with an intentional focus on involving young artists. Color Carlisle’s volunteer advisory board members all work with youth in some capacity, including teachers of a variety of subjects from grade school to college levels.
“We’re very passionate about Carlisle’s youth because we see the impact that we can have on them, giving them a voice and opportunity,” Guenther said.
The youngest artist to design an electrical box was 14-year-old Dinela Dedic.
Art While You Wait’s primary sponsor, PNC Bank, underwrote most of the project’s price tag of $2,750. In addition to supplies, each artist received a stipend for their work.
“I was super psyched to create my first work of public art,” said Holly Cohick, 24, a lifelong Mount Holly Springs resident.
Trained in art and design at CASA and HACC, she’s a graphic designer for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
Searching for artistic inspiration, Cohick considered the question, “Why do I love Carlisle?” And she hit upon a tasteful approach.
“I can relate to Carlisle through food, all the places I’ve eaten at growing up such as the Hamilton,” Cohick said. “I wrote down all the different restaurants and coffee shops, and I thought about what they are most known for.”
Much like Bantz, Cohick created a montage of artwork for her box design, titled “Smorgasbord.” There’s a sub to represent Al’s Subs, a hotchee dog from the Hamilton (conveniently located across the street from the box), and Cohick’s favorite dessert—French macaroons from Helena’s Creperie.
“I made a conscious decision to make my box very bright and vibrant with a graffiti feel,” Cohick said. “Using utility boxes which are kinda blah, it warms up the community.”
“Smorgasboard” was completed after 12 days and 57 hours. Additional utility box themes include nature and waterways, among others.
With a few projects now under the organization’s belt, Guenther says there is a “bubbling” or “ripple effect” creating excitement for future projects.
A future mural, in collaboration with the United Way of Carlisle and Cumberland County, is planned for the brick wall of North Hanover Antique Gallery—a GoFundMe campaign is underway. Artist Aron Rook of Carlisle is designing the mural. Her colorful work can also be found in Harrisburg and York.
“Creating opportunities to intersect people at all different levels of Carlisle in the form of public art, we’re focusing on big picture ideas, inspirational things for the community,” Guenther said.
Carlisle’s public art is also sparking community conversations.
“Art for a long time was geared to the elite,” said Bantz, who teaches art history. “I think the idea of public art being this free, beautiful piece of artwork—it’s very powerful. People are starting to recognize there’s something beautiful about people leaving their mark and changing their neighborhood.”
As for Bantz’s Carlisle-themed doodle, titled “LoveCarlisle,” it’s available as a print at the Carlisle Arts Learning Center (CALC) with proceeds benefitting Color Carlisle.
“Art should be accessible to all people,” Bantz said, “So, this brings me a lot of joy.”
For more information on Color Carlisle, visit colorcarlisle.com. “LoveCarlisle” is located at Hanover & High streets. “Smorgasbord” is at High & Pitt streets. St. Paul Lutheran Church’s mural is located at 201 W. Louther St. (rear).
The Carlisle Arts Learning Center (CALC) is located at 38 W. Pomfret St. For more information, visit carlislearts.org.