Rendering of the upper mezzanine level of the 34th street station built as part of the 7 subway extension. The dome will feature artwork by Xenobia Bailey. Rendering courtesy: MTA
Last week we presented the first part of our interview with Sandra Bloodworth, Director of MTA Arts & Design, where we talked about the incredible rebirth of the New York’s subway system over the past three decades and how the introduction of permanent art has transformed the transit experience in New York. From mesmerizing art cards and poetry in the trains, to captivating music in the stations, Arts & Design continues to touch our lives and ignite our imagination, as New York chugs along every day. In this second part of our four part series, we discuss how Arts & Design has influenced the aesthetics and design philosophy in NYC public transit as well as the different programs within Arts & Design, including the new ones that will soon be rolling down the tracks! This interview was conducted by Catherine Mondkar and Bhushan Mondkar.
Untapped Cities: Can you explain the ‘design’ part of Arts & Design?
Sandra Bloodworth: Arts & Design is a division of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and serves as the aesthetic eye for the organization. The MTA oversees various agencies that serve the region’s transportation needs including New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, MTA Bus and Bridges & Tunnels.
When the program was founded in 1985, civic leader and MTA Board member Ronay Menschel led an effort to introduce a consistent design philosophy to the MTA’s station rebuilding program. From the late 1980s into the early 1990s, Ronay and Arts for Transit (as it was called then) founding Director Wendy Feuer worked closely with the Chief Architect at New York City Transit, John Tarantino, to establish Station Planning and Design Guidelines. The Guidelines themselves were written by Prentice, Chan & Olhausen who looked closely at the history of various subway lines and developed a design philosophy, consistent with their original design intent. These guidelines were embraced by Architects and Engineers and continue to be in use today. We were closely involved in their development and remain committed to supporting them. We are always advocating for good design. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes we’re not.
MTA Ticket vending machines and rendering of the help point intercom. Image courtesy MTA and Antenna Design
In this role, we work to bring good design into everything we build – whether it’s architectural design or industrial design elements. The MTA has had some stellar successes such as the MetroCard vending machine, and the Help Point Intercom which is in MoMA’s permanent collection, both designed by Antenna Design. The R142 train, also designed by Antenna, was featured in the Cooper Hewitt Triennial. The new trains have a similar aesthetic because we believe in standardization and branding.
Early on, we collaborated with MTA marketing to update the MTA Graphic Standards, which in itself was an update of the Unimark International Manual that has recently received a great deal of attention because of the death of designer Massimo Vignelli.
Rendering of the R143/160 Subway Car. Image courtesy: Antenna Design
Untapped Cities: What are the different programs under Arts & Design?
Sandra Bloodworth: We are a small staff in a very large organization but the work we do leaves a big mark in the way people feel about their experience in the transit system and in the city itself. We’re able to carry out an array of cultural programs that touch the millions of riders who use our system each day.
I am very lucky to work with a team of dedicated and visionary arts professionals including Deputy Director Amy Hausmann, Senior Manager Lester Burg, Managers Lydia Bradshaw, Yaling Chen, Katherine Meehan and Assistant Managers Rob Wilson and Kate Amato. Each one of us wears many hats and each member of our team brings a keen eye and sharp curatorial vision to our program. In addition to the percent for art program we’ve discussed, we oversee a wide range of other visual and performing arts programs.
The Team at MTA Arts & Design– L to R- Lydia Bradshaw, Rob Wilson, Katherine Meehan, Amy Hausmann, Lester Burg (Seated), Yaling Chen, Sandra Bloodworth, Kate Amato. Photo courtesy: Patrick Cashin
Our Music Under New York program was established in 1985 and presents over 7500 performances every year in more than 25 locations throughout the subway and rail system. We hold annual auditions where musicians of all kinds play their hearts out in front of a panel of judges for the chance to be selected for the program. Their performances are an iconic part of New York City.
Music Under New York musicians performing at Grand Central Terminal annual auditions.
Our award-winning graphics program features commissioned work by illustrators and other artists whose work is presented on posters in subway stations, subway cars, and soon in city buses! The program is beloved by New Yorkers who appreciate the chance to see work by artists like Sophie Blackall, Philippe Lechien, Marcos Chin, Victo Ngai, Pop Chart Lab, James Gulliver Hancock and Susan Farrington up close and personal during their daily commute. We’ve been really pleased by the recognition the program has been receiving from organizations like American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators. In fact, we are planning an exhibit with the Society of Illustrators which will open in June 2015 featuring many of the original works of art created for the program so keep your eye out for that.
Art Card- Missed Connections, Sophie Blackall, 2011
Art Card- Grand Central Catwalk, Marcus Chin, 2012
Art Card- Walking New York, James Gulliver Hancock, 2013
The Poetry in Motion program was re-introduced in 2011. We work with our wonderful partners at the Poetry Society of America to present a range of contemporary poetry on subways and buses. As part of the re-launch of the program, we changed the design to marry poems with images from artwork in our permanent collection so you see a collaboration of art and poetry like Holly Sears‘ artwork from the Tarrytown station with a poem by Jeffrey Yang, or artwork by Joan Lindner combined with a poem from Dorothea Tanning. Most recently, we selected art by William Low from his project at the Parkchester station along with a beautiful poem by Maya Angelou.
‘Awakening in New York’ a poem by Maya Angelou (R)coupled with ‘Day in Parkchester’ by artist William Low
‘Elephants’ by Holly Sears’ at Tarrytown station with a poem by Jeffrey Yang.
We also present photographic work through the Lightbox Project at five locations throughout the system, like Bowling Green, Atlantic Terminal and the Grand Central Dining Concourse. The exhibits change each year and feature the work of a range of amazing photographers and artists. The program runs on a shoestring with corporate and business support for materials, printing, installation and maintenance. We recently installed work by Portia Munson at Bryant Park, a vibrant array of wreath-like designs made of gorgeous flowers and botanicals.
Vik Muniz’ photo collage ‘New York City, after George Bellows‘ is currently featured at a Lightbox in the middle of Times Square and Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao‘s playful images of Coney Island can be seen at the Atlantic Terminal station.
‘Botanicals Below Bryant Park’ by Portia Munson, 2014. Image courtesy: MTA
‘Greetings from Coney Island’ by Jeff Liao, 2013. Image courtesy: MTA
Our programs are constantly evolving and because we are expanding the digital network within our system, we recently established a new digital arts program with its first installation at the recently-opened Fulton Center. We are so proud to feature the work of Gabriel Barcia-Colombo in a work we commissioned called ‘New York Minute’, a large scale 52-channel video installation. Gabe’s work celebrates the diversity of people in the city and reminds us, through super-slow motion, that sometimes it’s important to slow down and pay attention to the small moments in the busy world around us.
‘New York Minute’ is a 60 channel video installation by Gabriel Barcia-Colombo
Untapped Cities: Can you tell us more about the artwork in the new stations along second avenue and the 7 train extension?
Sandra Bloodworth: We’ve talked about the artwork in Second Avenue Subway before and work is progressing with those exciting projects.
The artwork for the 7 train extension at the 34th Street-Hudson Yards station is slated to open in early 2015. Artist Xenobia Bailey has created a monumental mosaic installation titled “Funktional Vibrations” that fills an interior domed ceiling and a 140′ wide entryway over a bank of escalators. The work is modeled on the artist’s crocheted mandalas and sculpture. Xenobia has described her work as relating to the cosmos and to creativity, as expressed in the shooting stars embedded in her colorful galaxy of spinning spheres. The project is a great example of working with artists who have not worked in the public realm but whose inspiration and imagination translates into universally beloved landmarks for the people of the city.
If you want to keep up with all of our projects, programs and opportunities, please visit our website, and follow us on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. We post all kinds of behind-the-scenes images and in-progress shots of these and many other projects.
Behind the scenes on the 7 subway extension project to see the spectacular artwork and landscaping taking shape at the 34 St terminal.