T-sign and glass pyramid at Alewife Station

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 $695,000 USD, 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 a undertaking a temporary art program for stations under renovation, known as Artstops.


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]



Interior of Harvard Station.

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

From 1979-1980, The Cambridge Arts Council, who was charged with choosing the artworks, went though 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 Artist Image Station Year Medium Notes Ref
Untitled Richard Fleischner AlewifeEnvironmentalArt - from Commons Alewife<td 1985
>Granite, pavers, plantings</td>
A Template:Convert large environmental work containing an artificial pond and large granite blocks [6]
Untitled David Davison AlewifeTileMural - from Commons Alewife 1984 Porcelain tiles Template:Convert of abstractly painted, light blue tiles arranged in various ways [6]
Alewife Cows Joel Janowitz Alewife Cows - from Commons Alewife 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) William Keyser, Jr. KissandRideAtAlewife.agr - from Commons Alewife 1984 Maple, stainless steel Two sculptural benches [6]
The End of the Red Line Alejandro and Moira Sina Endoftheredline - from Commons Alewife 1984 Neon 1000 neon tubes suspended from the ceiling of the station directly over one of the tracks [6]
Untitled Nancy Webb AlewifeBronzeTiles - from Commons Alewife 1984 Bronze tiles 100 6" square tiles scattered throughout the station lobby with low relief images of plants and animals found in the Alewife Brook Reservation [6]
Ten Figures James Tyler Davis Statues - from Commons Davis Masonry Life-size people created out of cement, placed in areas around Davis Square [7]
Children's Tile Mural Jack Gregory and Joan Wye Davis Childrens Tiles - from Commons Davis Tile Many tiles created by children placed on the brick wall of the station mezzanine [7]
Poetry 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 Poetry Lines of poems are embedded into bricks on the station platform walls [7]
Sculpture With a D Sam Gilliam Sculpture with a D Davis Painted Aluminum A large scale, brightly colored, abstract work [7]
Gift of the Wind Susumu Shingu Artportersqmass Porter 1983 Steel, Aluminum a Template:Convert tall kinetic sculpture with three large red "wings" that move in response to the wind [8]
Ondas Carlos Dorrien Porter Ondas - from Commons Porter 1983 granite A Template:Convert tall piece of undulating granite affixed to the station wall both inside the station and outside [8]
Glove Cycle Mags Harries Porter gloves - from Commons Porter 1984 Bronze A large number of bronze gloves of varying types and sizes scattered inside the station, including alongside the escalator [8]
Untitled William Reimann Porter 1983 Granite Six granite bollards with various ethnic designs carved into them [8]
Porter Square Megaliths David Phillips Porter Square Megaliths Porter 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 † William Wainwright 800px-William Wainright - The Lights at the End of theTunnel Porter 1984 Aluminum and mylar A large scale reflective mobile located in the station's mezzanine. (Removed in 1993 due to lead weight that fell off.[9]) [10][11]
Gateway to Knowledge Anne Norton Gateway to Knowledge Harvard 1983 Brick A Template:Convert 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 Joyce Kozloff New England Decorative Art Harvard 1985 Ceramic Tile An Template:Convert long mosaic split up into 8 sections, each resembling a quilt. [12]
Omphalos Dimitri Hadzi Omphalos Harvard 1985 Granite A grouping of pillars holding up various shapes that intersect at odd angles. Many different types and polishes of granite are used. [12]
Blue Sky on the Red Line György Kepes Blue Sky on the Red Line Harvard 1985 Stained Glass A large stained glass wall composed of mostly blue glass with the exception of a red band that runs the length of the work.
(No longer lit.)

† Artwork removed from station


After the success of Arts on the Line, adding artwork to 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.[13] The MBTA installed temporary galleries in six subway stations; Central, Park Street, Kendall, Washington Street, 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 $20,000 USD 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.[14] When being asked about the installation "Eat Here", by A.E. Ryan, a subway rider at Harvard stated, "It's worth coming down to the T just for the art."[5]

Cruikshank, Jeffrey L.; Korza, Pam; Andrews, Richard; University of Massachusetts Amherst. Going public: a field guide to developments in art in public places. Arts Extension Service, National Endowment for the Arts. 1988.

See also
Kendall Band


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Red Line Northwest Extension Pamphlet page 5. The Davis Square Tiles Project. Accessed May 31, 2010
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Cruikshank, pgs. 69-70
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 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. 5.0 5.1 5.2 City Puts Subway Art on the Line. Harvard Crimson. March 04, 1986. Retrieved March 21, 2011
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Arts on the Line:Alewife Station. Cambridge Arts Council. 2002. Accessed May 30, 2010
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Red Line Northwest Extension Pamphlet pages 10-11. The Davis Square Tiles Project. Accessed May 30, 2010
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Arts on the Line:Porter Square MBTA Station. Cambridge Arts Council. 2002. Accessed May 30, 2010
  9. 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. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Arts on the Line:Harvard Square MBTA Station. Cambridge Arts Council. 2002. Accessed May 30, 2010
  13. "Eat Here!" offers artistic nibble for bored Boston Subway riders. Nashua Telegraph. October 9, 1986. Retrieved March 21, 2011
  14. Artworks Brighten T during Renovations. Harvard Crimson. October 14, 1986. Retrieved March 21, 2011

External links
Cambridge Arts Council
Davis Square Tile Project