Local artist Mike Bell has had his work shown in galleries in cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago, but for much of his career, his hometown of Atlantic City has eluded him. Until now.

Bell was recently invited to do the first piece in the Atlantic City Arts Commission's new Art Box Project, painting a utility box on the corner of Michigan and Arctic avenues in The Walk.

Bell, who was born in Atlantic City but now lives in Northfield, was glad to take part in the project, saying he and others like him have long wanted to expand art in the city.

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"Atlantic City is in my blood," Bell said. "For years, local artists have wanted to have more arts in the city, and it just hasn't really materialized, except for the Art Center."

Bell's box is one of about 90 spread throughout the city that are planned to be painted during the next few years as part of the project, said chairwoman Donna Marie Shea. The project will be paid for by CRDA and city funds.

While artists are encouraged to incorporate aspects of Atlantic City's culture into their pieces, it is not required.

Shea has so far seen a strong response, and the next piece will be done by Nike Studios Head Graphic Designer and former Atlantic City resident Christopher DeGaetano, who will be in town for two weeks in September to take part in the DoArtAC Boardwalk Art Show on Sept. 7.

Art box projects like this one have long been done in cities across the country and locally in Ocean City and Ventnor, and while the city has organized street art projects in the past, this is its broadest to date.

The project was spearheaded by Shea, who said she started the project in response to what she believes is a desire for more art in the city.

"The Arts Commission is becoming stronger and building itself up, and we want to get involved in the arts in Atlantic City," Shea said. "I feel that's the direction the city is going in."

In painting his box, Bell modified his existing pieces on the iconic Steel Pier Diving Horses and the Miss America Pageant, keeping their subjects intact but altering their color scheme to better fit the palette of their surroundings.

The art community in Atlantic City may be small, but it is passionate, and its members are always looking for a new opportunity to make their mark on the city. The Art Box project provides just such an outlet, and Bell said he is hopeful it will catch on.

"The arts are a big thing here that have kind of been overlooked in the past," Bell said. "It'll be another attraction, but an attraction with some culture, which is lacking. People are just starving for things to do in art."

For more information on the Art Box Project, contact Donna Marie Shea at atlanticcityarts@gmail.com or call or text 609-992-7224. For more information about Bell or to see his work, visit belldogstudio.com.

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