Take the Scenic Route: TRAVELS FAR, MTA COVID Memorial

The following is one of nearly 50 case studies included in the newly updated creative placemaking guide, the Scenic Route. This resource provides a tour of eight common approaches used in exemplary projects across the country at the intersection of arts, culture, and transportation.

Join Smart Growth America, Transportation for America, and the National Endowment for the Arts on Monday, May 10th at 3 p.m. Eastern to hear from experts on why this guide matters and how you can use it in your community. In the meantime, check out the Scenic Route at transportation.art.

Portraits of MTA workers who have died from COVID are displayed on screens that normally show maps and service changes, along with a newly commissioned poem, “Travels Far” by the U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith.

The challenge

The Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City is the largest public transportation agency in North America and one of the largest in the world. With a daily ridership of more than 5.6 million passengers, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the trains still ran. However, the MTA workforce was not an exception to the losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To honor the lives of MTA workers who have died of COVID-19, the MTA Arts & Design department created a project that would both involve the victims’ families and share their names with New Yorkers. 

The project

MTA Arts & Design department worked with an in-house team to create the artwork and video for the TRAVELS FAR: MTA COVID Memorial. They invited families from all MTA departments to submit portraits of the employees who died, and set them against backdrops of MTA colors that were displayed in an in-memoriam slideshow wherever there are triptychs of screens in the MTA system. Sandra Bloodworth, the director of MTA Arts & Design department and visual artist, conceived of the idea.

The memorial also included the following poem, written by Tracy K. Smith:

Travels Far

What you gave—
brief tokens of regard,
soft words uttered
barely heard,
the smile glimpsed
from a passing car.

Through stations
and years, through
the veined chambers
of a stranger’s heart—
what you gave
travels far.

—Tracy K. Smith

The results

Decentralization made the project successful; the memorial will appear within 107 subway stations (about a quarter of the system’s 472 stops), in all five boroughs, and online, making it accessible, especially during a time when social distancing is necessary.

nine-minute video, with audio by composer Christopher Thompson, rolls three times a day, at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. along with 111 portraits honoring the 136 MTA colleagues lost to COVID-19 as a tribute to the heroic transit workers who dedicated their lives to moving New Yorkers around the city and region. The price paid by these essential workers will be conveyed to each user of the MTA.

Key Partners: MTAMTA Arts & Design, families of the employees lost to COVID-19

Originally published on the Scenic Route website. To see all of the Scenic Route case studies, head over to transportation.art

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