Arts on the Line

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An exterior view of Alewife Station, the location of six of the original twenty works commissioned by Arts on the Line

Arts on the Line was a program devised to bring art into the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)'s subway stations in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Arts on the Line was the first program of its kind in the United States and became the model for similar drives for art across the country. The first twenty artworks were completed in 1985 with a total cost of US$695,000, or one half of one percent of the total construction cost of the Red Line Northwest Extension, of which they were a part.[1]

After the first 20 artworks were installed, Arts on the Line continued facilitating the installation of artwork in or around at least 12 more stations on the MBTA as well as undertaking a temporary art program for stations under renovation, known as Artstops.

Background and history[edit]

Interior of Harvard station

In 1964, the MBTA was created as the successor to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The purpose of the MBTA was to consolidate transit systems in greater Boston.

Before Arts on the Line was implemented, the MBTA did not have a comprehensive or formal arts program.[2] The process for choosing station art was closed, with no public announcement or solicitation to local artists, creating a sort of resentment within the arts community.[2] Artists that were chosen to install works in stations often had issues with contracts and contractors, and often had severe issues with just getting paid by the MBTA.[2] Arts on the Line began with the planning of the Red Line Northwest Extension. four stations, Harvard, Porter, Davis, and Alewife, were created or remodeled as a part of this mass transit project. In 1977, The MBTA received a USD$45,000 grant from the Federal Government's Urban Mass Transportation Administration to create a program to install artworks into the new stations,[3] and in 1978 the MBTA and the Cambridge Arts Council (CAC) joined in a partnership to reach this goal.[2]

The Arts on the Line program was developed solely by the CAC and was administered by them as well.[2] Meant to be a response to art installations in subway systems such as the Stockholm Metro, Paris Métro, Montreal Metro, and Moscow Metro,[1] the new Arts on the Line program became the United States' first arts in transit program, and was to be a "pilot for similar projects in other U.S. cities".[3]

Selection process[edit]

From 1979-1980, The Cambridge Arts Council, who was charged with choosing the artworks, went through the artist selection process and selected twenty artworks, five for each station.[3] To select the works, an "arts committee" was formed for each of the stations, and an open call to artist was created. In total over 650 artists submitted proposals.[1]

There were between 10 and 15 people sitting on each selection committee. Each committee had at least one of each of the following: MBTA representatives, community development representatives, members of local historical societies, local residents and business representatives and an arts administrator.[2]

Each committee had two subgroups, an "advisory board" and an "art panel". The advisory board was tasked with collecting information about the future station and its surroundings. This included design of the station, history of the area and a profile of future station users. This information was passed along to the art panel, composed of three people: an artist, an art professional from outside of Massachusetts, and someone who lived near the future station. This panel was the group that actual chose the artworks.[2]

A seven step process was devised to create a "systematic selection precess which would, nevertheless, provide flexibility".[2] The steps were as follows:

  1. Meetings with art committee
  2. Meetings with art panel, MBTA, architect, and review of "Artbank"
  3. Method for artist selection
    1. Open competition
    2. Limited competition
    3. Invitation
    4. Direct Purchase
  4. Artists develop proposals
  5. Artists presentations
  6. Art committee discusses proposals
  7. Art panel makes decision [2]

After the placement of 20 artworks in the four stations of the Northwest Extension, the program expanded to include the creations of artworks in or around at least 12 more stations on the MBTA.[4]


In 1985 the first 20 artworks installed under the Arts on the Line program were unveiled. These works composed the largest collection of art, in a United States transit setting, at the time. The total cost of the artworks was $695,000 USD, or one half of one percent of the total construction cost of the Red Line Extension, and was funded partially by a $70,000 USD National Endowment for the Arts grant.[1]

The works were almost exclusively made with durable materials, stone, bronze, brick, etc., and many were placed so that it was physically impossible to reach them without assistance. This was to avoid normal wear and tear as well as vandalism.[3] The works are designed to last 75 years per City of Cambridge standards for public art.[5]

The following is a list of the first 20 artworks created for Arts on the Line, which were all installed along the Red Line Northwest extension.

Title Image Artist Station Location Year Medium Notes Ref.
Untitled Untitled Richard Fleischner artwork at Alewife station (2), 2011.jpg Richard Fleischner Alewife Street level 1985 Granite, pavers, plantings A 3-acre (12,000 m2) large environmental work containing an artificial pond and large granite blocks [6]
Untitled Tile mural at Alewife station, 2011.jpg David Davison Alewife Ramp to busway 1984 Porcelain tiles 200 feet (61 m) of abstractly painted, light blue tiles arranged in various ways [6]
Alewife Cows Alewife Cows artwork, October 2006.jpg Joel Janowitz Alewife Busway (north wall) 1985 Paint on steel panels A mural of a false exit to the bus terminal with cows grazing in a pasture outside. [6]
Untitled (Kiss and Ride) Untitled (Kiss and Ride) at Alewife, July 2005.jpg William Keyser, Jr. Alewife Parking garage 1984 Maple, stainless steel Two sculptural benches [6]
The End of the Red Line The End of the Red Line, 2011.jpg Alejandro and Moira Sina Alewife Above the northern track 1984 Neon 1000 illuminated red neon tubes suspended from the ceiling of the station directly over one of the tracks [6]
Untitled Bronze tiles at Alewife station, 2011.jpg Nancy Webb Alewife Lobby floor 1984 Bronze tiles 100 6-inch (15 cm) square tiles scattered throughout the station lobby with low relief images of plants and animals found in the Alewife Brook Reservation [6]
Ten Figures Ten Figures statues in Davis Square (2), October 2009.jpg James Tyler Davis Street level Masonry Life-size human figures created out of cement, placed in areas around Davis Square [7]
Children's Tile Mural Children's Tile Mural at Davis station, October 2006.jpg Jack Gregory and Joan Wye Davis Mezzanine wall Tile Many tiles created by children placed on the brick wall of the station mezzanine [7]
Poetry Poetry at Davis station, 1985.jpg Richard C. Shaner, Elizabeth Bishop, Sam Walter Foss, Erica Funkhouser, E.J. Graff, Denise Levertov, James More, Peter Payack, Anna M. Warrock, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman Davis Platform level (floor and walls) Poetry Lines of poems are embedded into bricks on the station platform walls [7]
Sculpture with a D Sculpture with a D, February 2013.JPG Sam Gilliam Davis Wall above northbound track Painted aluminum A large scale, brightly colored, abstract work [7]
Gift of the Wind Gift of the Wind, August 2011.jpg Susumu Shingu Porter Street level 1983 Steel, aluminum A 46-foot (14 m) tall kinetic sculpture with three large red "wings" that move in response to the wind [8]
Ondas Ondas at Porter station, February 2013.JPG Carlos Dorrien Porter Headhouse 1983 Granite A 24-foot (7.3 m) tall piece of undulating granite affixed to the station wall both inside the station and outside [8]
Glove Cycle Detail of Glove Cycle, October 2019.jpg Mags Harries Porter Escalator and platform level 1984 Bronze A large number of bronze gloves of varying types and sizes scattered inside the station, including alongside the escalator [8]
Untitled Artwork by William Reimann at Porter station, February 2013.JPG William Reimann Porter Street level 1983 Granite Six granite bollards sandblasted with designs representing ethnic groups who live in the Porter Square area.[8] [8]
Porter Square Megaliths Porter Square Megaliths, February 2013.JPG David Phillips Porter Street level 1984 Field stone, bronze, pavers Four boulders with large "slices" removed and replaced with bronze casts of the missing pieces [8]
The Lights at the End of the Tunnel The Lights at the End of the Tunnel, 1985.jpg William Wainwright Porter Mezzanine (hung from ceiling) 1984 Aluminum and mylar A large scale reflective mobile located in the station's mezzanine. (Removed in 1993 after a lead weight fell off.[9]) [10][11]
Gateway to Knowledge Gateway to Knowledge, 1985.jpg Ann Norton Harvard Brattle Square 1983 Brick A 20-foot-6-inch (6.25 m) high brick structure divided vertically down the center by a gap but still attached at the top. One half is slightly forward of the other. [12]
New England Decorative Art New England Decorative Art detail, February 2013.JPG Joyce Kozloff Harvard Wall above busway ramp 1985 Ceramic tile An 83-foot (25 m) long mosaic split up into 8 sections, each resembling a quilt [12]
Omphalos Omphalos (Harvard Square), February 2013.JPG Dimitri Hadzi Harvard Harvard Square 1985 Granite A grouping of pillars holding up various shapes that intersect at odd angles. Many different types and polishes of granite are used. (Removed in 2013, after a heavy stone fell due to corrosion of its supports[13]) [12]
Blue Sky on the Red Line Blue Sky on the Red Line, 1985.jpg György Kepes Harvard Wall of the upper busway 1985 Stained glass A large, backlit stained glass wall composed of mostly blue glass with the exception of a red band that runs the length of the work. It was unlit for years until the original fluorescent lamps were replaced with LEDs in 2019. [12][14]

† This artwork is no longer installed at the station


After completing the installation of artwork on the Red Line Extension, the program continued in other forms. In 1986, Arts on the Line began a program titled "ArtStops" with the goal of providing artwork to stations under renovation as a way to distract riders from the mess and confusion of the renovation work.[15] The MBTA installed temporary galleries in six subway stations, including Central, Park Street, Kendall, Washington Street, and Essex (Chinatown) stations, which were all undergoing renovations in the mid-80s. These galleries hosted temporary works for 18 months, and each temporary gallery was allotted US$20,000 to spend on art.[5] In total 21 artists were chosen, each one being given a $3500 stipend to develop and create up to three projects for the station.[16] A subway rider at Harvard station stated, "It's worth coming down to the T just for the art".[5]


The MBTA maintains an online catalog of the over 90 artworks installed along its six major transit lines. Each downloadable guide is illustrated with full-color photographs, titles, artists, locations, and descriptions of individual artworks.[17][18]

Removal of artworks[edit]

In 1993, The Lights at the End of the Tunnel, a large reflective mobile by William Wainwright in the Porter Square station mezzanine was removed, due to a lead weight that fell off.[9] The location and status of the artwork is unknown as of April 2015.

Since 1985, Omphalos, a large outdoors public art sculpture by Dimitri Hadzi, marked Harvard Square station at the center of the busy intersection.[19] Structural elements of the sculpture slowly deteriorated unnoticed, until a 1,000-pound (450 kg) piece fell off without warning. Short of funds and faced with an expensive repair bill, the MBTA considered options to either move or destroy the artwork in August 2013.[20] By December 2013, the sculpture had been removed, and its ownership had been transferred to a private developer of housing in Rockport, Massachusetts. The developer plans to restore and re-install it on a public harbor walk near a new development, with the approval of the artist's widow.[13][needs update]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Red Line Northwest Extension Pamphlet page 5. The Davis Square Tiles Project. Accessed May 31, 2010
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cruikshank, pgs. 69-70
  3. ^ a b c d Nesbitt, Lois E. Art Goes Under. Harvard Crimson. February 15, 1980. Retrieved March 21, 2011
  4. ^ Statuesque. Harvard Crimson. October 13, 1983. Accessed June 17, 2010
  5. ^ a b c City Puts Subway Art on the Line. Harvard Crimson. March 04, 1986. Retrieved March 21, 2011
  6. ^ a b c d e f Arts on the Line:Alewife Station Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine. Cambridge Arts Council. 2002. Accessed May 30, 2010
  7. ^ a b c d Red Line Northwest Extension Pamphlet pages 10-11. The Davis Square Tiles Project. Accessed May 30, 2010
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Arts On The Line: Porter Square MBTA Station". Cambridge Arts Council. 2002.
  9. ^ a b Christine Temin, "Answering the SOS for Public Art", The Boston Globe, August 31, 1997
  10. ^ Red Line Northwest Extension Pamphlet page 9. The Davis Square Tiles Project. Accessed May 30, 2010
  11. ^ [1] Smithsonian American Art Museum Art Inventories Catalog
  12. ^ a b c d Arts on the Line:Harvard Square MBTA Station Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine. Cambridge Arts Council. 2002. Accessed May 30, 2010
  13. ^ a b Edgers, Geoff (November 11, 2013). "Hadzi sculpture in Harvard Square to get fixed, then moved". Boston Globe. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  14. ^ Projects: Harvard Station Busway Improvements Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2019. Accessed 12-31-2019.
  15. ^ "Eat Here!" offers artistic nibble for bored Boston Subway riders. Nashua Telegraph. October 9, 1986. Retrieved March 21, 2011
  16. ^ Artworks Brighten T during Renovations. Harvard Crimson. October 14, 1986. Retrieved March 21, 2011
  17. ^ "Arts on the T". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  18. ^ "Public Art in Transit: Over the Years". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on 2014-06-25. Retrieved 2014-06-23.
  19. ^ "Cambridge Public Art". Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  20. ^ Edgers, Geoff (August 29, 2013). "Crumbling hopes for Harvard Square sculpture". Boston Globe. Retrieved 11 November 2013.


External links[edit]