MTA Arts & Design_NYC_Sandra Bloodworth_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar09‘Whirls and twirls’ by Sol LeWitt at the 59th Street – Columbus Circle station. Photo: Rob Wilson; (Top) Installation views, Images: MTA

In celebration of their upcoming 30th Anniversary, MTA Arts & Design launched their book New York’s Underground Art Museum: MTA Arts & Design, an updated companion to Along the Way which was published in 2006. The new edition features nearly 100 new works of art that have been commissioned and installed over the past eight years. Untapped Cities took this opportunity to kick start a four part series featuring our interview with Sandra Bloodworth, Director of MTA Arts & Design as well as the co-author of this fabulous book. We started with the origin and evolution followed by the various programs within Arts & Design. In this third part we discuss the process involved in installing these refreshing art pieces within the NYC transit system. The interview was conducted by Catherine McKeon Mondkar and Bhushan Mondkar.

Untapped Cities: Is there a particular process to decide the spaces within the stations that will be dedicated to art?
Sandra Bloodworth: Yes there is a process. What happens first is that subway and rail stations are evaluated for funding of improvements through the 5-year capital program, and it is an exhaustive process that studies the condition of each part of each station. When a station or group of stations in the Capital Program, is in the preliminary design phase, a percentage is established for art from the construction budget. We then work closely with the design and planning teams to identify as many locations as possible, and we determine what material can be used. We use beautiful and durable materials like glass, metal and mosaic, a medium that was historically used in the subway system. When artists are informed of an opportunity, we have a pretty good sense of the places in which art can be accommodated. We are always interested in making artwork as integrated as possible and as large as possible, in places with few obstructions and where the most people will see the artwork. In newly constructed stations, such as the 2nd Avenue Subway, we have much larger expanses of space, so there is more opportunity.

MTA Arts & Design_NYC_Sandra Bloodworth_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-006

(L) ‘Nautical Charts-Gowanus & Red Hook from 1733-1922;Fathom Points + Compass Bearings’ by Alyson Shotz, located at the Smith-9th Street station in Brooklyn. Photo: Rob Wilson (R)  Rendering of the artwork by Sarah Sze for the 96th Street and Second Avenue Subway Station. Image- Sarah Sze Studio. See more of the artwork in the Smith-9th Street station here.

MTA Arts & Design_NYC_Sandra Bloodworth_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-005(L) ‘Generation Dynamica’ by George Batesat at Central Av. station on the M line. Photo: Kisha Bar. (R) ‘Bronx River Views’ by Barbara Grygutis at Whitlock Av. station on the 6 line, Photo- Peter Peirce

At existing underground stations we often select mosaic, and at the elevated stations where there is natural light there are more options, so we may select metal sculpture or different types of glass. Recently we have commissioned a lot of metal railing and grilles, as the laser cut technology allows artists’ visions to be more fully realized in this material. Occasionally, we have the opportunity (such as the Fulton Transit hub and the new stations along the Second Avenue Subway line,) to be involved from the project inception, working together with the architects, engineers and artists. Those are unique situations.


Behind-the-scenes of the construction of Sky Reflector-Net, the centerpiece of the Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan. 

Untapped Cities: Can you explain the process of installing an artwork in the subway- from selecting the artist, various phases and agencies involved and the final installation?
Sandra Bloodworth: After the project scope and materials are defined we follow a selection process, which involves doing outreach to ensure artists are informed of the opportunity. These are generally ‘Calls to Artists’, that we post on our website and through other local artist channels. A selection panel of arts professionals will review dozens of artists’ submittals and choose 4-5 finalists to produce site specific proposals. During an orientation session, finalist artists talk with architects and design managers for the MTA agency who explain the details of the architectural spaces where artwork can be installed. This may be certain wall areas, windows, windscreens and so forth. Once the artist is selected and we have their site-specific proposal, we enter into a design development phase. The artist modifies and finalizes their design, obtains materials samples from fabricators or expert craftspeople to demonstrate the interpretation of the design into the chosen material. We then have the materials tested, when necessary. Our job is to help those artists bring their creativity into the physical manifestation, to assist them in selecting the fabricators who translate their art work into the specified medium, and to be an overall facilitator for the artist so their vision can speak to our riders.

MTA Arts & Design_NYC_Sandra Bloodworth_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar(L) Artist Ray King with Arts & Design’s Sandra Bloodworth and Lydia Bradshaw; (R) Arts & Design’s Lester Burg meeting with artist Jean Shin and fabricators Stephen Miotto and Frank Giorgini (r).

During this process any safety or building issues are worked out with our agency colleagues – the architects and engineers and construction team, to ensure that the fabricated work will mesh seamlessly with the surrounding architecture, be durable and easy to maintain. We contract with the artist and they are involved in every phase of design, fabrication and are present at the installation. The Arts & Design project manager oversees the entire process and is closely involved with the communications between artist, architect, fabricator and contractor.

MTA Arts & Design_NYC_Sandra Bloodworth_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-004Fabrication samples at the MTA Arts & Design office.

MTA Arts & Design_NYC_Sandra Bloodworth_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-008(L) Chuck Close self-portrait to be translated into mosaic for 86th Street and Second Avenue Station; (R) Artist Xenobia Bailey with maquette for the upcoming 34th Street – Hudson Yards Station.

Untapped Cities: Is there any public participation involved in this process?
Sandra Bloodworth: We work closely with the community relations staff at all MTA agencies. They are the eyes and ears in every community we serve and they are present at selection panel meetings. In addition, Community Board leadership and the offices of local elected officials who represent the neighborhoods and towns are invited to participate in an advisory role so that their voices are fully heard. Arts professionals select the artwork, but community and local officials engage in a dialog to understand the thought process and inform the panel of community sensitivities, history and dynamics. Community representatives provide us with the context for our job of creating art for the people who use our system. Our job is to chose the best high quality art, so the work should reflect that ridership and New York City. From day one, this is the most important philosophy that runs through the Arts & Design program. The arts professionals –typically a curator, art administrator or artist, are chosen for panels based on their familiarity with the community as well as their knowledge of contemporary art and public art. It is a truly effective process, as we are able to hear community concerns and opinions, while benefiting from the combined expertise of the panel members.

MTA Arts & Design_NYC_Sandra Bloodworth_Untapped Cities_Bhushan Mondkar-003‘Hive’ is a light installation for the Bleecker Street Station by Leo Villareal. Photo Courtesy: James Ewing

Learn more about the origins of MTA Arts & Design here . Check out the design philosophy and different programs within MTA Arts & Design here.

Get in touch with the authors at @bhushan_NYC and @catherine2m