New York City was hard hit in the early days of the pandemic. Essential workers all around the city continued working to provide critical services to New York’s embattled 8.4 million residents, often at risk to their own health and their lives. The MTA just unveiled a moving digital memorial in honor of the 136 employees who have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Located in 107 subway stations across all subway lines, the art installation features an eight-minute video showing digital portraits of the fallen workers shared by their families on 138 three-panel digital screens.

Women pointing at digital panel of TRAVELS AFAR

The installation is titled TRAVELS FAR, after a poem by former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith (you can read the poem below and see it at the stations, translated in multiple languages). There is also an online memorial which additionally features original music by composer Christopher Thompson commissioned by MTA Arts & Design. TRAVELS FAR puts faces to the sobering statistic, a reminder to New Yorkers of the people they may have encountered in their daily commutes.

TRAVELS AFAR in Bowling Green station

The installation was a special request to MTA Arts & Design by Sarah Feinberg, Interim President of MTA New York City Transit. She said yesterday “The pandemic has marked an unimaginably challenging and painful time at New York City Transit. Today marks the next step in our ongoing efforts to honor the colleagues, friends and family members who were taken from us too soon. These men and women were the heroes of the transit system – conductors, bus and train operators, cleaners – but they were also mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. We think of them daily and we continue to mourn them with their friends and families.”

Bowling Green station with TRAVELS AFAR digital display

According to the MTA, “This special tribute involved many people in various disciplines including New York City Transit liaisons to the family, and in-house talent from marketing, web and digital content teams.” The video will play twice consecutively three times per day, at 10:30 AM., 2:30 PM. and 8:30 PM until February 7th and is also available to view online.

Sarah Feinberg at Bowling Green station

Sandra Bloodworth, the Director of MTA Arts & Design said, “TRAVELS FAR, with its poignant title and thoughtful words by Tracy K. Smith, helps us remember these courageous members of the MTA family in a way that pays tribute and honors them and their workplace contributions. Surrounded by a spectrum of colors, the portraits in black and white allow us a glimpse into unique personalities known to their families and colleagues.This memorial shows that art can be a powerful messenger, conveying loss and honoring the memory of our colleagues.”

TRAVELS FAR by Tracy K. Smith  

What you gave—

brief tokens of regard,

soft words uttered

barely heard,

the smile glimpsed

from a passing car.

Through stations

and years, through

the veined chambers

of a stranger’s heart—

what you gave

travels far.

Next, check out another new memorial honoring the Black Angels, the nurses who battled against tuberculosis in NYC.