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Meet the woman turning old payphones into art

pay phone art
Posted at 12:10 PM, Dec 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-01 15:10:42-05

BALTIMORE, Md. — Juliet Ames can’t draw or paint, but she is still very much an artist in her own right. The 43-year-old woman has built a thriving business by taking sentimental pieces of family heirlooms like plates and turning them into jewelry.

"I’ve never cared that much about perfectionism in art," Ames said standing inside her studio in Baltimore.

These days, though, she is dialing in her attention toward a relic of the past by trying to bring new life to aging pay phones around the city of Baltimore.

"I grew up using pay phones. If I had to call my mom, we would do the trick where you call collect and say, 'Pick me up at the gas station up the street,’ and hang up," she recalled.

Payphones were once a critical cornerstone of American communication. In 1995, there were more than 2.6 million pay phones in the U.S. But with the rise of cellphones, that number has now dropped below 100,000.

These days, the sun has all but set on most payphones in the country. Most companies like Verizon and AT&T won’t even service them anymore. Many are just falling apart in the places where they’ve stood for decades.

That’s where Ames comes in.

"They just look like a frame to me, so I see an opportunity for art. It’s just an empty frame with nothing in it," Ames said

Where some see a bygone form of telecommunication, Ames sees opportunity, creating art inserts that she places into pay phones that have fallen into disrepair. Some are inspired by art history, while others are inspired by pay phones in pop culture.

"Now, people are noticing little things; you can find beauty anywhere," she added.

Like these phones themselves, the life of her installations is short-lived. To date, almost every piece of art she’s installed across has been stolen. But having taken photos of each installation, Ames is okay with that. Her eventual hope is to turn the entire project into an art gallery.

"I just hope if someone is having a bad day, they’ll see art in the world and maybe they’ll smile, and that gave me delight and hopefully gives people around town happiness too," she expressed.