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.
Aside from popular media, local politicians have taken note of the artist's project, with salutary remarks from the state's city Senators and one contributed by a Councilman. In a nod to the plural use of the Salt Box for public safety, one box quotes Mayor Brandon Scott's viral social media moment, reminding citizens to wear their face masks properly, saying, "Shorty, pull ya mask up".
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 Box & Día del Niño
On Saturday, April 29, 2023, from 11A–2P, we will participate in Patterson Park’s Annual Día del Niño Celebration, bringing four Giant Salt Boxes to Patterson Park for the festivities. During the event, four Baltimore artists will debut their Giant Salt Boxes, a project inspired by the work of Juliet Ames.
The artists will discuss their Baltimore-inspired designs and support young artists invited to decorate blank spaces on the boxes during the event. Children from 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 will be participating. Come out and decorate a Salt Box with us!
Meet the Artists
Matt Muirhead, Screen Printer and Painter
Liz Miller, Multimedia Artist
Jasmin Manning, Painter
Akio Evans, Multimedia Artist