MTA stands for Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a public benefit corporation that is a staple of life to the millions of people who live in or near New York City. The MTA is responsible for the region’s buses, subways and commuter rails and has become synonymous with the subway system. Too often, when people think of subway stations they envision dark and dirty locations–a misperception that the MTA is seeking to change. Whilst New York’s subways did go through a rough patch in the 1970s, the subway stations of today are well lit and quite clean. And, thanks to the Arts & Design program, certain stations have also become havens for artistic endeavors.
MTA Arts & Design started 30 years ago in the mid-1980s in conjunction with a massive rehabilitation program that aimed to make the subway experience more pleasant for riders. MTA Arts & Design was created to oversee the selection of artists and the installation of permanent artworks in subway and commuter rail stations. Today, this program is one of the largest and most diverse collections of site-specific public art in the world, with more than 300 works by well-known, mid-career and emerging artists. According to the official website:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority network is a first-rate art museum comprised of works created in mosaic, terra cotta, bronze, glass and mixed-media sculpture. You may hear music, read poetry, or enjoy graphic posters in stations or rail cars. The founders of the New York City subway believed that every design element in the system should show respect for our customers and enhance the experience of travel. Language was added to contracts that required the highest quality materials and craftsmanship. This led to the extensive use of ceramic tile, terra cotta and mosaics as decorative elements. As the century-old transportation network is restored and renewed, these decorative elements of the past are preserved and protected as contemporary art and design are introduced.
MTA Arts & Design has grown to encompass Music Under New York, which presents more than 7,500 performances each year, a graphic posters program, Poetry in Motion, Digital Arts, the photographic Lightbox Project, special events and industrial design issues. Arts & Design allows visual artists, poets, musicians and even animators to showcase their work and thereby delight a portion of the 8.7 million people who ride MTA subways and commuter trains every day. In essence, the program strives to create meaningful connections among sites, neighborhoods, and people and invites everyone to discover and enjoy New York’s diverse and beautiful railways.
“We just premiered our newest offering in the Digital Arts program: a stop-motion video running every hour on the hour at Fulton Center,” said Amy Hausmann, Deputy Director of MTA Arts & Design. “This is our second digital commission for the new Fulton Center and our first stop-motion artwork so we’re very excited about it.” The animation is titled “The Blowing Bowler” and chronicles the adventures of a man chasing his bowler hat through the subway system, subsequently traveling through time to showcase the evolution of subway car design through the years. Created by award-winning illustrator Chris Sickles of Red Nose Studio, the animation will be on view until the summer of 2016. “We are currently expanding our digital art program and plan to introduce a range of fresh and innovative digital work in the future,” Hausmann explained.
Another goal of MTA Arts & Design is to reach out to all the communities within NYC, not just those in Manhattan. “The work we commission reaches the entire 5,000 square mile region of the MTA and the selected arts reflect the diverse nature of New York City,” Hausmann stated. “We have a broad mix of artists in the program – from established artists whose work you see in major museum collections around the world like Jacob Lawrence, Nancy Spero, Roy Lichtenstein, Sol Lewitt, Elizabeth Murray, Chuck Close and Sarah Sze to mid-career and emerging artists. The work reflects our city and the people who live here.”
Artists are selected via open calls to the public which are periodically posted on the MTA website (www.mta.info/art). The artwork is selected by a panel of arts professionals and is site-specific, tied directly to a sense of place, represented by an eclectic mix styles. The public response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive and the MTA Arts & Design boasts a huge following on social media.
“New York is a cultural city and having art in the subway is a natural fit,” said Amy Hausmann. “We like to think of the subways as New York’s underground museum — for the price of a ride people can see incredible artwork, hear beautiful music and read inspiring poetry. We think that adds value to the overall experience of living in New York and traveling with the MTA.”
Artists who are interested in submitting an artistic proposal should look out for open calls. Anyone who is interested in learning more about Arts & Design should follow their official website, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or Twitter.