Public Art enhances Public Transit project in Tucson
The following blog post was written by Katie Selph, currently the Communications Intern at the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She is a recent graduate from the University of Arizona with a degree in Creative Writing.
By linking distant locations and providing broad public access, mass transit systems unite communities and offer common ground for diverse populations to gather and commune (or commute, as the case may be). When well-placed, public art can serve a similar function.
Tucson citizens came out in force this past weekend for the launch of the Sun Link Streetcar, but the $2.1 billion public transportation project wasn’t the only attraction on display. All along the 3.9 mile route, passengers were treated to dynamic and thought-provoking works of public art.
Funded through the Percent for Art public art program, which allocates 1% of all major capital improvement projects to the creation of public art, the Sun Link public art project injects new life into downtown Tucson and provides 21 new reasons for the community to venture out into their city.
Signature installations, specifically commissioned for the streetcar line, are displayed at 11 of the streetcar’s 22 stops. Many of the artists chosen for the project are Arizona natives from Tucson, Bisbee and Surprise. Others hail from Colorado, New Mexico and California. Artists were selected by a panel of Tucson residents and artists, as well as streetcar designers and representatives from the City of Tucson and Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). The selection process was overseen by the Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC).
In addition, the University of Arizona Poetry Center contributed poetry to the project. The poems are displayed on LED “poetry boards” at another 10 stops along the line – LED light boards that display poetry alongside transit information for riders.
While each piece is unique, the unifying theme of “flow” is reflected throughout the streetcar route. Project lead artists Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead allowed the chosen artists to decide for themselves how to interpret “flow” and how the concept would manifest itself. For some, inspiration came from the ebb and flow of nature, for others it was about history, the movement of words, or the motion of water. Each piece captures the eye in an interesting way and provokes the imagination.
Imagine a six-foot tall head that glows blue in the night, spewing jumbled thoughts on to the sidewalk below. “Poet” by Donovan and Olmstead was inspired by the Poetry Center and resides at the stop nearest to this UofA landmark.
At the two platforms at Cushing and Granada, visitors can interact with the public art installation. “Wandering Stars” was created by Joseph O’Connell, Blessing Hancock and Elliot Hart and revolves around columns that break off at the top like stars swirling in the sky above. When pressed, buttons on each column change the colors of the stars above.
If you want to see Arizona’s history in a new way, be sure to get off at North Church Avenue and West Congress Street. “Untitled” by Joe Tyler tells the story of Arizona through a yucca plant with 100 leaves representing each year of Arizona’s statehood. The stalk rising from the middle of the plant has 15 blooms with the name of Arizona’s counties. A sun symbol represents Arizona’s climate while other icons scattered throughout represent the state’s connection to cattle farming, citrus growing and copper mining.
The streetcar launch was a vibrant weekend-long event that celebrated a variety of arts and culture in Tucson. Five major districts along the streetcar route hosted themed parties expressing their own particular sense of Tucson.
Downtown Tucson hosted “Summer in the City,” where locals could relax under a shaded beer tent, enjoy live music and treats from local food trucks, play ping pong or volleyball, and build sand castles in 170 tons of sand that was brought into the area.
Fourth Avenue hosted “Soul in the City,” which played upon its eclectic history with a wide variety of street artists and live music.
Mercado San Agustin hosted “Fiesta in the City,” a Latin-themed party with Latin music, food and soul.
Main Gate Square chose the theme of “Jazzed in the City” and treated its visitors to jazz performers and local vendors, as well as food and drink.
The University of Arizona offered discounted and free admission to their museums.
In the end, a streetcar is only as valuable as the places it can take you. Tucson’s continued commitment to public art has ensured that wherever Sun Link passengers arrive, they’ll have something waiting for them that’s worth the trip.
The selected artists and titles and locations of their works are:
Artists: Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead
Title: Poet | Location: Helen/Warren stop (1 platform)
Artist: Rafe Ropek
Title: Pen/Sword | Location: 2nd and Highland (1 platform)
Artist: Susan Wink
Title: Flight of Time | Location: University/Time Market (1 platform)
Artist: Mary Lucking (working with Pete Goldlust)
Title: Nancyplants Island Location: 4th Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets (1 platform)
Artist: Eric Powell
Title: Calabashes | Location: Broadway and Congress at 5th (2 platforms)
Artist: Joe Tyler
Title: Untitled | Location: Broadway and Congress at Church (2 platforms)
Artists: Joseph O’Connell, Blessing Hancock, Elliot Hart
Title: Wandering Stars | Location: Cushing at Granada (2 platforms)
Artist: Cristina Cardenas
Title: Untitled | Location: Avenida del Convento at Congress
Poetry Reader Boards (8 locations)
Artists: Simon Donovan and Ben Olmstead
To learn more about the Tucson Pima Arts Council and the work that they do, click here to visit their website.