History and special events

"Untitled" (1986) by Milton Glaser at Astor Pl. Photo: MTA Arts & Design

MTA Arts & Design was created in 1985 when the subway system was beginning to reverse years of decline through an ambitious capital improvement program. MTA leadership determined that original, engaging, and integrated artworks should be part of the rehabilitation and construction process. Civic leaders and arts professionals agreed, lending their prestige and support to various committees that developed the policies and procedures to include art as an integral part of that rebuilding effort. The program's establishment 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 in today's environment, as the use of mass transit continues to grow back, and more stations are built or rehabilitated, which in turn increases the presence of art in MTA stations.

The founders of the New York City subway believed that every design element in the system should show respect for our customers and enhance the experience of travel. Language was added to contracts that requires the highest quality of materials and craftsmanship. This led to the extensive use of ceramic tile, terra cotta, and mosaics as decorative elements. As the century-old transportation network is restored and renewed, these decorative elements of the past are preserved and protected as contemporary art and design are introduced.

The unique set of conditions within the subway system calls for durable materials that can easily be maintained. As a result, Arts & Design projects are created in ceramic tile and mosaic and other media, such as metal or glass. The Arts & Design program also plays an important role in the physical restoration and attention to design elements within the stations. This includes not only artwork, but gates, fare vending machines, and even the design of subway cars.

The program remains faithful to the founders' credo that the subway should be an inviting and pleasant environment, geared to the user, with the highest levels of design and materials. New works of art follow these principles, as Arts & Design upholds the high standards initiated over 100 years ago.


Special events

Click here to learn more about MTA Arts & Design's special events through the years.