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Art in Transport

Across the world you can find spectacular art installations throughout transport systems – in metro stations, at bus stops, on trams cars, by the side of the road. So why do we integrate art into transport infrastructure?

Improving the Experience of Travel

When we travel, we are moving between two locations - leaving one place to get to somewhere else, sometimes in unfamiliar environments and locations. Psychologically there may be uncertainty; confusing environments; fear of loss or leaving something behind; concerns around being on time or late and now we have the underlying tension around the risk of harm - harm from others, accidental harm, and harm from viral infection, with all the previous advice about social distancing and mask wearing is no longer in place. We often travel alone, and yet we are thrust into busy places amongst large number of strangers. All of this can result in conscious, or unconscious, anxiety and stress This mindset can also impact our own behaviour towards others.

Chief Architect for Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR), says that art can 'humanise what is often an anonymous and dehumanising space’.

Evidence Based Research

Global clinical research including - the UK government’s, ‘Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing’, report and The World Health Organisation’s first-ever report on the evidence base for arts and health titled, ‘What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being?’, show that the arts can have a number of positive impacts - one of the biggest impacts being reducing stress.


Our world is now dominated by global brands and so many things in our lives now look the same, irrespective of where we live in the world – same cars, same clothes, same phones, same shops, same Swedish furniture in our homes. Transport hubs can begin to all look the same, however when we add artworks, these artworks are unique. Public art commissioning provides an opportunity to create, or contribute to, a location’s identity – creating a unique sense of place. Large scale, easily recognisable, artworks can act as an urban marker, creating a landmark or anchor point.

One of the most famous examples is the Statue of Liberty in New York, which became an arrival marker, an icon of freedom, and symbol of welcome to immigrants arriving by sea. Today this iconic statue continues to enhance many commuters’ ferry journeys as they come and go from the city.

Assisting Wayfinding

In transport systems, especially metro systems, the stations are designed to suit their function and look can look very similar to one another. In these, often large, stations and networks, the travel experience can become disorientating, and this is exacerbated by the lack of natural light or street view. Public art creates individual, recognisable stations and so assists our wayfinding. They act as very clear visual markers that are effective for all ages, genders and transcend language barriers.

Reflecting Our Heritage

Public art can also serve to represent and celebrate the history of a particular place. Recent examples include T Projects commissions by Peter Atkins and James Voller.

Peter's "TRACKwork" tiled walkway takes inspiration from vintage suburban train tickets issued between 1920 and the late 1980s, to create a stunning contemporary artwork. The shapes and colours featured were originally used to show if tickets were return or one-way journeys and the train line they were valid for.

Photographer James Voller documented the legendary locomotive "Heavy Harry", the heaviest steam powered train to ever operate in Victoria, Australia, manufactured in 1941, now lovingly restored at the nearby Newport Railway Museum. James integrated the image of this iconic train into the façade of one of the North Williamstown station’s utility buildings. This artwork reflects Williamstown’s pivotal place in Melbourne’s rail and industrial history.

The History of Art in Transport Systems

The integration of art into transport systems is not a new thing, although it is certainly becoming increasingly a very popular, more frequent feature of new and refurbished transport systems.

London Underground has been one of London’s most consistent and pioneering public sector patrons of the arts since the early 20th Century. Working with artists, designers, and craftspeople in every aspect of its architecture, graphic design, branding, train livery, upholstery as well as its site-specific art commissions in stations.

This commitment to art and design was led by Frank Pick, who was the Managing Director in the 1920s. His vision established the concept of ‘total design’, the strategy behind the London Underground brand and the reason it remains one of the most recognised brands and transport systems in the world. The unique roundel logo; the Johnston typeface; station designs, the iconic map and artworks commissioned for stations all contributed to create such a recognisable identity and profile for the company.

London Underground’s headquarters, built between 1927 and 1929, sit above St James’s station and the building façade features modernist reliefs by prominent British sculptors of the day.

Today the Art on the Underground program continues to develop permanent and temporary creative projects across the network with the aim of enriching the daily journeys of millions of passengers.

Similarly, the founders of the New York City subway believed that every design element in the system should show respect for passengers and enhance the experience of travel. Travelling through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority network, you will find a range of artworks created in mosaic, terra cotta, bronze, glass and mixed-media sculpture. MTA’s art program was created in 1985 when the subway system was beginning to address years of decline with an ambitious capital redevelopment program. MTA wanted engaging and integrated artworks to be part of the redevelopment program and so developed policies and procedures to include art as an integral part of the rebuild and this continues today as more stations are built or redeveloped.

Naples transport’s recent expansion included new metro lines and the development of the project ‘Stations of Art’ (also known as the Hundred Stations Plan), it was intended to entrust the planning of metro stops to well-known contemporary artists and architects. The Art Stations, located along the lines 1 and 6 of the Metro network, include more than 180 pieces of art created by 90 international artists & some young local architects, allowing them to combine different architectural styles. The Art Stations not only enhance the passenger experience they also aim to positively contribute to the redevelopment of the surrounding areas.

Art in transport systems is now a global phenomenon with programs in Barcelona, Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Dallas, Delhi, Dubai, Kaohsiung, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Medellin, Melbourne, Mexico City, Montreal, Munich, Naples, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Pyongyang, Seattle, St. Louis, Sydney, Santiago, Sao Paolo, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Toronto, Warsaw and many more.


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