Maryland artist Heidi Lippman hopes that harried Purple Line commuters will someday glance up at the Connecticut Avenue station’s colorful glass canopy in Chevy Chase and appreciate the changing seasons as expressed through leaves and water.
Boston designer Mikyoung Kim wants residents in Riverdale Park to relax or play while gently rocking in her steel swing-like sculptures as mirrors create a light show beneath the elevated Purple Line station.
Austin architect Murray Legge hopes University of Maryland students, faculty and visitors will see the school’s colors in the Campus Drive station’s laminated glass as they change and reflect the motion of the trains.
As construction of the 16-mile light-rail line wraps up its second year this summer, artists, designers and architects from across the country have finalized designs for artwork at the 21 stations. Because the 40-yard platforms will be relatively small, especially compared with more cavernous Metro stations, the artwork in many cases will dominate Purple Line stations, making them distinct from one another.
In addition to making the line more aesthetically pleasing, Maryland transit officials say the art will reflect the identities of surrounding communities, often showcasing their diversity or history. Many artists say they hope to instill a sense of delight and wonder in passersby while creating community icons.
“I always feel like if you can provide a moment of respite for all these commuters, you’ve done a lot,” said Lippman, of Smithsburg, Md., who also has a mosaic at the New Carrollton Metro station garage. “We all move around so much. It’s nice to have a moment to yourself to remember there are other things in the world besides rushing to work.”
The rail line will extend from Bethesda in Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. Most Purple Line stations will consist of a street-level platform with benches covered by 50-foot glass canopies and buffered by windscreens. Those surfaces, along with fences that will separate stations from traffic and bridges that will carry trains over major roads, will provide canvasses for the artists.
In downtown Bethesda, the station’s walls will have a pink and yellow cherry blossom motif. In downtown Silver Spring, blue steel spirals symbolizing water will adorn the overpass carrying trains over Colesville Road.
A station in the Lyttonsville area of Silver Spring will have a “sculptural photo album” of residents from the historically African American community. The artwork also will incorporate replicas of the girders from a 100-year-old bridge that longtime residents say served as a lifeline during decades of racial segregation.
In the Beacon Heights area of Prince George’s, a mosaic of colorful tiles will have Maryland’s state flower, the black-eyed Susan, woven throughout. At the New Carrollton station, images of leaves inspired by an “urban forest” will be incorporated into the glass canopies, windscreens and brick pavers.
Images of the station art can be seen here.
The Maryland Transit Administration’s $6 million art budget allots between $100,000 and about $400,000 for each of the 21 stations, said Chuck Lattuca, the agency’s head of project delivery.
Although contracts with artists are still being finalized, Lattuca said he expects the art budget will remain intact, even if the project’s construction costs rise.
“We’re not looking for any savings in the art program,” he said.
The winning designs were selected by committees of state transit officials, members of the Montgomery and Prince George’s arts councils, the Purple Line contractor, art professionals and residents, Lattuca said.
The artwork will be installed after the stations are built in 2020 and 2021, Lattuca said. The line is scheduled to open by spring 2023.
Samuel Parker Jr., a retired Prince George’s planner who served on a selection committee for the county, said the Purple Line’s public art is as important as the trains and tracks.
“I’m a real proponent of art defining the specialness of a place,” Parker said. “We wanted the art to make a statement for the whole community, whether people used the station or not.”
The challenge, artists say, comes in creating work that will be relatively maintenance-free and durable enough to withstand freezing winters, sweltering summers and thousands of passengers brushing past daily. It must be catchy enough to grab attention, while also dynamic or complex enough to hold the interest of regular commuters who see it twice a day for years on end.
“You want to make sure they see something new every time,” said Volkan Alkanoglu, a Portland, Ore. artist who designed fences at the Takoma-Langley station. “You want to make sure it doesn’t get boring and it inspires people on a daily basis.”
Alkanoglu said he will project photographs of residents from an event he’ll organize through the local community center onto sheets of aluminum. The fences’ photo collage will showcase the area’s ethnic and cultural diversity and “constant change,” he said.
He hopes it will spark conversations between strangers waiting for a train.
“It’s what art is about — it’s taking people to another place during their daily habits and maybe sparking a bit of inspiration, thought or creativity,” said Alkanoglu, who also works as director of digital design at the Nike headquarters in Oregon.
On sunny days, Purple Line riders at the Manchester Place station at the portal of a short train tunnel in Silver Spring will see rainbows, reflecting the area’s cultural diversity, projected onto the station’s walls, platforms and tracks. The patterns and their locations will change as sunlight pours through large prisms at different angles during the day and over the course of the year, said the artist, Peter Erskine.
Erskine, of Corvallis, Ore., said he wants to bring rainbow light into the station at the edge of a dark tunnel. Making the art dependent on sunlight — no rainbows will appear on cloudy days or at night — will demonstrate humans’ dependence on, and need to protect, the natural world, he said.
“I think it’s cool because people won’t know what to expect,” Erskine said. “If a commuter uses it daily and the first three days are cloudy, there will be no artwork. Then, on Thursday — wham — there it is. It makes the whole experience very, very fresh.”
Legge, of Texas, created the design for the colorful glass canopies at the University of Maryland’s Campus Drive station with his wife, cinematographer Deborah Lewis, and sister, visual artist Andrea Legge. Murray Legge said the station’s glass canopies will start out clear and end up yellow and red — the school colors — and, of course, purple as trains come to a stop. The colors will change, he said, depending on the time of day and the amount of sunshine.
“Our hope is we create a glowing, colorful space,” Legge said. “I know it’s a goofy word, but we want people to feel enchanted. We want people’s hearts to lift a bit every time they see it.”