Armed with pens and clipboards, five judges circled slowly around the artwork sticking out of a York City sidewalk.
It was an abstract visual, to say the least. The ugly gray of the parking meter had been masked by a seafoam green background decorated with red flames and a few realistic-looking playing cards.
The judges kept the talking to a minimum, recorded their scores, then moved on to the next coin collector. Next up was a colorful presentation of morning-glory flowers meant to represent "resilience, perseverance and growth."
Artist-designed and decorated parking meters are not new in York, of course. City officials came up with the street-beautification idea in 2006 and handed it over to YorkArts a year later. An annual call for artists kept the city's number of decorated meters growing each year, now totaling between 60 and 70.
But the popular program came to a temporary halt last year after staff cutbacks at YorkArts, said Mindy Christian, the organization's director of programs.
This year, the city's General Authority - which owns the parking meters - requested the program's revival.
"They came to us this year and asked us to do it," Christian said.
York City's inventory of individually decorated parking meters grew by 20 within the past few weeks. All of the new ones are on West Market Street between Continental Square and Penn Street. Older designs can be found on North Pershing Avenue and North Beaver, North George and West Philadelphia streets.
This year's artists - 17 total - included a tattoo artist, a graphic designer and at least one teenager, Christian said.
Among their designs are a couple of fortune-cookie-like messages - "You'll have no idea how far you can fly until you spread your wings" and "You have really great conversational skills and nice teeth."
There are a few under-the-sea-themed meters, one decorated with a montage of colorful peace signs - strategically placed in front of a yoga studio - and another painted to resemble an old war plane, complete with pin-up girls on the side.
The judges who scored the meters on Tuesday have chosen five winners, each of whom will receive $100 from the General Authority. Winners will be announced at 6 p.m. Friday at YorkArts, 10 N. Beaver St.
- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.