After a hard day’s work, you make your way to the light rail station, head down, headphones on. You’re at the Pavonia-Newport stop, on your way to the Martin Luther King Drive station, and you can’t wait to see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself—at least his marble bust—which signals that you’ve reached your destination. And across the platform are beautiful abstracts by local painter Ben Jones.
The builders of the light rail system were required to allocate a percentage of their budget to the artwork that adorns every light rail station, from North Bergen to Bayonne. According to the Art Inclusion Act of 1978, up to 1.5 percent of the construction cost of a publicly funded state project must be spent on art. The transit arts program, which was launched in 1994, takes full advantage of this, and today New Jersey’s public transportation system features more than 150 art installations.
According to the NJ Transit Arts website, “The program was created to integrate artwork into the architectural design of transit facilities, creating inspirational places that improve riding experience for customers and enhance the beauty of public spaces within communities.”
The work includes everything from autographs of grade-school kids etched into a windscreen to brass inlays on the platform beneath your feet. It ranges from the functional to the purely aesthetic and has been integrated so thoroughly into each station that distracted riders often don’t even notice it.
When you photograph the work, you start to see the way the sun seems to spotlight a person sitting under a tree or the way silhouettes of riders create a contrast to the cityscape as viewed from the Liberty State Park station. The light rail provides a perfect blank canvas for the art. One thing you notice right away is how the artwork at each stop blends with the surrounding neighborhood.
These photos are from all the Jersey City stops.
Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
The art of the light rail is everyday life—JCM