Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake Arts Council team up to bring artwork to TRAX stations

Story and slideshow by LISA HENDRY

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The platform is dotted with people. Some wear backpacks, some carry briefcases; other people clutch coffee cups, or push over a bike. The brakes sound on the track. A button is pushed, the doors open.

The automated voice fills the air, “You are on the Red Line train to Daybreak.” The brakes lift, people settle into their seats and TRAX is on its way.

Stop after stop, people come and go. The next station is reached. The doors open onto the TRAX station. More can be found there than just the dull grind of commuters. A flash of color, a crop of shaped metal, a reflection of glass. There is art.

Amid the scattered travelers, signs, schedules and benches that line each TRAX station, there are shapes and designs, colors and murals — art that Utah’s students, children, artists and government have all contributed to bring life to the urban landscape.

To bring about these pieces of art, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) partnered with the Salt Lake City Arts Council in a project called Art in Transit.

“It is really designed to enhance the character of our transit system,” said Jerry Carpenter, a UTA spokesman, in a phone interview. UTA works with local art commissions of different cities to select artists.

Roni Thomas, project manager at the Salt Lake City Arts Council, has worked with UTA for the Art in Transit program. She is currently involved in the most recent project of developing the North Temple line, which will feature its art pieces in fall 2012.

“When this line is done, we would have worked with the UTA at 20 stations,” Thomas said in a phone interview.

Thomas said the Arts Council is involved in the artist selection process from start to finish. The council presents a call to artists to commission their artwork, based on requests for qualifications and requests for proposal. The Salt Lake design board, made up of  Council members and members of UTA, makes a recommendation to the mayor and CEO of UTA to approve the artwork after it has been proposed.

Each project is commissioned $90,000, an amount split by UTA and the city. After completion, the artwork is owned and maintained by the UTA. Some stations are open to national artists, while others are left exclusively for Utah artists.

“We are supporting local artists,” Thomas said. “When visitors come in town and see ‘oh that’s done locally,’ it is something the community can look at and take pride in.”

The Trolley TRAX station, located at 625 E. 400 South, was one of these stations. It was a project not only done by local artists, but also by children of Salt Lake City. Bad Dog Arts, located in downtown Salt Lake City, undertook the art project and allowed children to create the artwork.

“We’re all about art,” said Victoria Lyons, co-founder and co-director of Bad Dog Arts. The Bad Dog Arts program is a nonprofit organization that works with children ages 5 to 18 and allows them to create art as a positive outlet. The station provided an ideal landscape for the Bad Dog Arts project.

“The imagery is different reflection and action of community from kids’ perspectives.” Lyons said in a phone interview.

The station contains several different elements. Mosaic tiles line the station, both on benches in bright, colorful patterns and outlining the station ramps. Some drawings are engraved into granite pavers. Art and poetry is displayed under the canopies; that artwork resulted from a Bad Dog Arts writing program.

“Art can be life changing,” Lyons said. “It makes a huge difference in kids’ lives and can sometimes be one of the ways to reach kids to communicate and allow them to contribute to the community in a positive way.”

Just like this beneficial project, each piece of art is about speaking to the particular area.

“It’s a way that we enhance the riding experience and give them (the riders) something to look at that is typically reflective of the community,” UTA spokesman Carpenter said.

According to Thomas, it is up to the artists to speak to the area by researching the location, community and history of the area.

For example, the “Flame Figure” by Michael Stutz, located at Rice Eccles Stadium, is representative of the line that was installed just as the 2002 Winter Olympics came to Salt Lake City. The artwork there ties together the theme of the Olympics, blending the human form with the energy of fire.

All future UTA art projects will continue to say something about the rich history of the location and appeal to the area.

Each individual project has goals the Salt Lake City Arts Council wants to accomplish. For example, all six of the stations along the new North Temple line will emphasize the feeling of moving from the downtown area to the more open area surrounding the airport. “We want to create a sense of arrival in the city,” Thomas said.

Other artwork still in progress can be seen at the Midvale Bingham station, which will feature art titled “Utah Bit and Mine.” Carpenter said it is an interactive artwork that uses a great amount of creativity and shows just how neat art can be. The art is designed to highlight and reflect Utah’s deep mining history.

As the TRAX lines expand, the new art that is being proposed will take a different approach in representing the city of Provo. It will be using bright, whimsical figures to give the city that bright, offbeat and dynamic feel. Instead of representing Provo’s history, the art will demonstrate that Provo is a modern, developing city.

“The thing that is interesting about art is what is appealing to some people others might not like. So you want to find something that is part of the community,” Thomas said.

That is exactly what these pieces of art do. In supporting local artists and giving shape to Utah’s history and background, the art at the TRAX stations enriches the experience of those riding public transportation. It is something that the commuters can take pride in, and feel a part of.

“It helps make a more viable and bright community,” Thomas said, “and that’s what public art does.”