Marianne Lovink believes a good piece of public art can help define a city.
“[Public art] reflects a creative spirit and can evoke a sense of pride and ownership in the community,” Lovink, a Philadelphia resident and artist, said. “Public art can also beautify and enliven a site. It encourages viewers to look at the city with a fresh perspective and, over time, serve as a memorable landmark.”
Lovink and her partner, Scott Eunson, will create multiple pieces for an installation in SEPTA’s 40th Street Station. Entitled “Nexus,” the four installations will be centered at separate corners of the station and function as stair screens.
Besides their aesthetic appeal, the screens also have a security purpose. Eunson said the screens prevent trespassers when the stations are closed.
SEPTA’s Art in Transit program, established in 1998, is sponsoring the installation. The program commissions artists to create permanent works of art in public facilities.
SEPTA public information manager Kristin Geiger said the program grew out of a belief that artistic contributions in SEPTA stations “can be an integral component of broader community outreach.”
Eunson said the pair applied for the program during a public call in mid-2015. Although he primarily works as an architect, Eunson also said he and Lovink have worked on large-scale publicly commissioned work in his current home, Toronto, Canada.
“The chosen artist was required to create a work that would serve a double duty,” Lovink said. “Not only an engaging artwork, but also as a security and safety screen. The artwork replaces the need for security grills and bars where it is installed.”
Eunson and Lovink began to formulate ideas for the installation by looking at city grids and satellite photos of Philadelphia. Eunson said they wanted to capture the everyday “flows and energies” present in Philadelphia.
The title, “Nexus,” can be defined as “the central and most important point or place,” a nod to the fact that 40th Street Station acts as a transportation hub for West Philadelphia.
Each piece of the installation is meant to represent different aspects of the city based on the four colors used: red, blue, green and orange.
“The red corner is about the tendency of people gathering,” Eunson said. “The green corner is about nature and natural form throughout the city. The orange one is about communication and technology and the blue is related to the waterways.”
“We had a lot of freedom in this project,” he added. “We decided to make it an inclusive project.”
To do so, Eunson said he and Lovink attended “a few community meetings” with Philadelphia residents to get an idea of what would fit best within the area.
In addition, Geiger said SEPTA projects are approved from multiple perspectives. Before choosing the artists to complete a project, a jury of five people is formed to discuss the top five proposals.
Geiger said the Art in Transit program manager is “the only permanent member on the panel,” and the other four members are selected to include “a community representative, an artist who lives and works in or near the area surrounding the station, an arts professional and an architect or engineer.”
“When you’re living in a city, everyone is working as a community and collaboratively,” Eunson added, an idea that coincides with the pieces’ goal of representing multiple facets of Philadelphia.
“It’s the greatest thing when you make a work and talk to someone new and they say, ‘Oh yeah I’ve seen that, I walk by it every day,’” Eunson said. “It just becomes a landmark, I think. Rather than some sort of sign of corporate power, or even a grand gesture about the city it’s just a grassroots level addition to the city. Something that is colorful, and just brightens our days as they go by.”
Lovink said the introduction of art “in any form” into a community is solely to “support and celebrate” the community that the piece is installed in.
“The idea is that we are all a part of the city,” Eunson said. “Rich people, poor people, taxi drivers, bicyclists, walkers and everyone else. Everyone adds their own little energies and patterns to the city.”
Erin Blewett can be reached at email@example.com.