Bill Greene/Globe Staff
The blue lights were flashing as the Boston Police car approached the traffic island in Copley Square. Christos Hamawi, standing by with his brushes and paints, didn’t panic. He reached for his permit.
He didn’t just have permission from the city to paint the gray electrical box outside the Westin Hotel. He had been hired for the job. Hamawi, 36, is one of about two dozen local artists brought in by the Boston Arts Commission as part of its PaintBox program.
Modeled after similar efforts in Cambridge, Somerville, and other cities, the program started slowly last year with 13 boxes but has expanded to more than 40.
“The idea is that it would deter graffiti because these boxes wouldn’t be a blank canvas,’’ said Karin Goodfellow, staff director of the commission. “But I like it not just specifically because of graffiti. My interest is more in getting local artists to create art on the streets they’re living.’’