Integrating Arts in Transportation Planning

Artists, planners, engineers, transportation advocates, and government employees all gathered together last month for a workshop exploring the nuts and bolts of integrating art into transportation projects. On Friday, May 17, MAPC and Transportation for America hosted “Rails, Trails, Streets: Art in Transportation,” which focused on how art can enhance rail corridors, trails, and streets.

Jennifer Easton, Art Manager of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Ben Stone, Director of Arts & Culture at Smart Growth America, spoke about creative placemaking, case studies of integrating art in rails, trails, and streets, and project funding. Massachusetts-based artists Carolina Aragon, Silvia Lopez Chavez, Mags Harries, Lajos Heder, Carolyn Lewenberg, Aziza Robinson-Goodnight, and Nate Swain spoke about their work integrating public art into transportation projects.

But the workshop wasn’t just about learning best practices: after learning about the possibilities, attendees brainstormed how they could integrate public art and creative placemaking into their own work.

“Today’s takeaway is to create achievable in-house projects,” said Easton. “How can you all talk to each other, talk to us, and come up with a project?”

Easton started with the basics, defining “public art” and explaining why and when to include it in projects. Then she got to the how: assembling a team with internal staff and external stakeholders, deciding what the vision is, selecting artists, and finding funding opportunities.

Stone spoke about the benefits of creative placemaking in general. “People value social offerings, openness, and aesthetics of a place,” he said, speaking about what factors drew people to communities and made them want to stay. Education, basic services, and safety all ranked lower in a Gallup poll.

In transportation planning, he explained, arts and culture can generate creative solutions for entrenched problems, make streets safer for users, organize transportation advocates, inclusively engage a variety of stakeholders, foster local ownership, alleviate the disruptive effects of construction, and heal wounds and divisions.

The two explored case studies from throughout the country, including:

The workshop also explored the practical considerations of investing in public art: finding funding, for example. Highlighted funding opportunities included Our Town grants for projects that incorporate art into community development projects that have an impact on place; Commonwealth Places grants from MassDevelopment, Mass Cultural Council’s Local Cultural Council Program, the Boston Foundation’s Place Leadership Network, Sasaki Foundation grants, and Essex County’s Creative County Initiative. Local foundations that provide arts & culture grants include the Barr Foundation, New England Foundation for the Arts, and the Boston Foundation.

MAPC also offers technical assistance for both arts and culture and transportation projects. Our Arts & Culture team can help out with arts & culture action plans, creative placemaking, creative community development, and creative community engagement. The team also embeds creative placemaking in interdisciplinary projects with other departments.

After Easton and Stone laid out the benefits and challenges of integrating art into transportation work, attendees got to hear directly from artists. Seven presented on their projects:

The workshop culminated in a collaborative activity during which attendees worked with the artists to brainstorm ways that they could integrate art and culture into their own transportation work. A worksheet guided them to think about first steps, long-term steps, measuring success, who should be involved, budget, and potential funding sources. All came away with an initial plan for a new project.

MAPC frequently hosts arts and culture capacity-building workshops and discussions centered around creative placemaking and integrating arts and culture into various projects and spaces. Past workshops have included:

Stay tuned for news of future workshops! If you’d like to sign up for arts and culture updates, click here.