New York City is known as one of the art capitals of the world. Art is all around us – from the Museum Mile on the Upper East Side to the galleries of Chelsea and beyond. We are often told to look up as to not miss any of the magnificent architecture above our heads. But there is also art beneath us, in dozens of subway stations throughout the five boroughs, including right here in Greenwich Village. Throughout this blog series, “Downtown Underground” we will uncover the lovely murals, mosaics and installations that line the subway stations of our neighborhoods.
In 1985 the MTA founded what was then called Arts for Transit and Urban Design (now called Arts & Design) as part of an ambitious capital improvement program meant to reverse years of subway system decline. At that time, MTA leadership determined that original and engaging art was a vital part of the rebuilding effort, one that would lead to a more pleasurable experience for subway riders. The Arts & Design program occurred as both the historic preservation and public art movements began to influence public policy and as cities nationwide began their own rebuilding programs. Arts & Design’s work continues to flourish today.
The first stop on our tour of subway art is the Christopher Street-Sheridan Square station. Lee Brozgol’s The Greenwich Village Murals contains a set of 12 framed mosaic tile paintings depicting vignettes of community history that the artist created in conjunction with children from Public School 41. Brozgol worked closely with the students (nine specially chosen fifth and sixth graders) to create images inspired by the word and concept of “identity.” Though the artist originally intended for each panel to depict one famous person, he revised his vision, stating, “…the village is so rich in amazing characters who shaped America that picking only twelve was impossible.” Brozgol and his student collaborators ended up portraying about 40 people important to Village history in their murals, split up into four groups: Founders, Providers, Bohemians, and Rebels. A key next to the mosaic is a helpful tool, listing the community leaders displayed on the colorful murals.