The Federal Transit Administration encourages the inclusion of art in transit systems by stating, “The visual quality of the nation’s mass transit systems has a profound impact on transit patrons and the community at large. Good design and art can improve the appearance and safety of a facility, give vibrancy to its public spaces and make patrons feel welcome.” It further attests to this point by providing funds toward art in transit capital projects.
As David Allen, director of Metro Arts in Transit for St. Louis Metro says, “It’s really pretty much a given now that there’s going to be an art component in any new system or alignment.”
How it started in St. Louis was how it has started at many agencies. “It started with a group of citizen activists who wanted artists to be involved in the design of the original light rail system,” he explains. “This goes back to the late '80s; it was rather groundbreaking.
“St. Louis Metro had a team of artists working elbow-to-elbow with the engineers and architects on the project, which was quite unusual for such a large infrastructure project at the time. As a result, a number of the key signature architectural features of our system were heavily influenced by the ideas and sensibilities of the artists from there.”
Allen adds, “Originally this was kind of an ad hoc group of citizens that were kind of driving this and eventually it got folded into Metro itself. Today it’s a fully supported program of Metro and we’re housed in the engineering division of Metro.”
Elizabeth Mintz, director of Communications for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and the project manager for the authority’s Art in Transit program, says the program’s establishment grew out of a belief that aesthetic enhancement at stations and facilities can be an integral component of broader community outreach and partnership building efforts, undertaken in conjunction with capitally funded construction and reconstruction projects.
“We strongly support FTA’s core principle that the visual aesthetic of a transit system — specifically art — can have a significant and positive impact on customers and surrounding communities, says Mintz. “In keeping with FTA Circular 9400.1 (1995) and based on scope of the authority’s Capital Development program for station improvements and construction, the current Art in Transit program was established in 1998.” She adds, “SEPTA had installed art at a selected number of transit stations but not as part of a formal program.”
“SEPTA’s stations, terminals and headhouses are visible community landmarks,” Mintz says. “Using permanent art installations as a focal point, the authority seeks to strengthen its identity as a provider of public transit service and create an enhanced sense of pride and ownership for riders and the neighborhood surrounding a station.”
Making a Community
Brad Oldham, sculptor with Brad Oldham International Inc., explains the special needs of transit art. “One of the things about mass transit that I think is very important in the art world is that the artwork is approachable, that people can access it.” You don’t want it to be like a museum where people can’t interact with it, he says.
He adds, “Whether you invite them to or not, they are going to touch it.” In creating The Traveling Man, Oldham explains, “That’s a big part of why we used reflective materials in some of the materials so you morphed into the piece as you came up on it, almost like a mirror.” He stresses, “I think that’s real key because if you don’t feel like you can interact with the piece of artwork especially in that arena, the exterior world, it’s part of the public.”