Baltimore Salt Boxes are wooden boxes with hinged covers distributed annually to supplement the city's snow removal and road salting operations. They are a service of Baltimore's Department of Transportation, and we distribute the boxes around the city in the late fall (no precise date is given) in anticipation of winter weather. The boxes are filled with road salt and sand for citizens to spread as needed to assist with traction and prevent or melt icy patches on city streets.
The box is painted safety yellow for high visibility and marked "Salt Box" on the front panel in characteristic stenciled black capital letters. We typically remove them in the springtime for refurbishment and redistribution the next season.
Historians at the Baltimore Historical Society say the first reference to the ubiquitous Salt Box in the Baltimore Sun archives is from 1969.
Besides the practical use, the humble Salt Box has fans for many reasons, as demonstrated by an eponymous social media presence on Instagram, established in 2018. In 2020, awareness of the salt boxes was significantly increased when local artist Juliet Ames noticed that salt boxes remained unseasonably present due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She decided to spruce up a local box by adding decorative elements, thus creating street art.
Ames alerted us, and we approved of the modifications, encouraging further citizen artist engagement and coining the trend of Salt Box Art. Ames artist posted guidelines for acceptable alterations to city property on her website, and the community produced many more in a spontaneous public art response.
The Salt Box Instagram account launched a Google Map of Baltimore Salt Boxes, including categories for unaltered and Salt Boxes with art, gathering contributions via crowdsourcing. With growing attention from local media, the Salt Box story quickly became a viral phenomenon over the winter of 2021, gaining nationwide and international notice.
In accordance with our guidelines, Salt Boxes should have a salt theme or highlight something special in the surrounding neighborhood. Salt Box Art themes include visual and word-based puns on salt and spices, ice and snow, portraits, and tributes to local Baltimore culture. Well-known Baltimoreans with Salt Box homages include Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Divine, Tupac Shakur, Tori Amos, John Waters, the Baltimore Black Sox, and Natty Boh, among other cultural touchstones.
Since permanence nor the return of the original art is guaranteed, the main collaborators behind the Salt Box Art phenomenon have put forward a plan with the Department of Transportation for citizens to choose to remove their art for safekeeping and reuse it the following season or to adopt a box for long term maintenance.
Salt Boxes & Día del Niño
Department of Transportation Unveils Giant Salt Boxes in Four City Parks
On Sunday, June 11th, 2023, the Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) debuted four giant salt boxes at the annual Día del Niño Celebration which was held in Patterson Park. These giant boxes were created as part of a special initiative to celebrate the beloved salt boxes that are placed in city communities during the winter season. DOT and local artists collaborated on this project to create public art and educate residents about how ordinary tools used by the agency can become extraordinary pieces celebrated in Baltimore and beyond.
During the event, the local salt box artists were available to discuss their Baltimore-inspired designs. Children from local recreation centers, including the Coldstream Recreation Center at Clifton Park, Mount Royal Recreation Center at Druid Hill Park, Virginia S. Baker Recreation Center at Patterson Park, and the Samuel FB Morse Rec Center at Carroll Park also helped to decorate the giant boxes by painting smaller panels which were mounted to each box. This project was inspired by the work of Juliet Ames, who has decorated numerous salt boxes throughout the city, creating excitement and coining the trend of salt box art.
The giant salt boxes will be on display in four city parks through the end of July, including Patterson Park, Clifton Park, Druid Hill Park and Carroll Park. The public is encouraged to celebrate the city and local artists by visiting the giant salt boxes in each of the parks. The Department of Transportation has placed barcodes on each box so that passersby can scan the code to learn more about the project and the artists who created them.
Media outlets who would like to request an interview with any of the salt box artists should reach out to DOT to coordinate.
About the Salt Box Artists:
Liz Miller, Multimedia Artist, Druid Hill Park, Instagram @liz_miller_productions
Liz Miller based her salt box artwork on the R&B group Dru Hill which was founded in Baltimore by local natives in 1992 and named after Druid Hill Park. The group became well known because its members worked at a local fudge factory at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and began a store tradition of singing and performing to entertain guests while making the fudge. Their songs helped the artist through “many a breakup”, so she decided to focus her art on their album cover ‘enter the Dru’ by changing it to ‘enter the park’ to invite residents to enjoy the park’s history, both present and future.
Jasmin Manning, Painter, Patterson Park, Instagram @jasminmanningart
Jasmin Manning’s “Nike Air Max 95 Baltimore Away” Salt Shoe Box Panel is an acrylic painting of the iconic Nike Air Max Sneaker. The painting uses the color scheme of orange, white and black to pay homage to the Baltimore Orioles, along with celebrating steamed crabs and Baltimore sneakerheads.
Akio Evans, Multimedia Artist, Carroll Park, Instagram @akioevans
According to artist Akio Evans, the diamond pattern in the Baltimore flag inspired his design of placing Baltimore icons inside the diamonds. This was the first art design that he created for a major production studio.
Matt Muirhead, Screen Printer and Painter, Clifton Park, Instagram @mattmuirheadartist
Matt Muirhead’s artwork features the famous Bromo-Seltzer tower engulfed in chamomile flowers. Since the artist feels like Baltimore needs “a bit of chill”, he encourages Bmore to “drink some herbal tea” and appreciate all the amazing architecture this city has to offer!