"Arts in Transit": Metro's Arty Stab at Neighborhood Beautification

Though she now lives in Houston, artist Arielle Masson grew up in Belgium and was educated in France; thus, she has a bit of a different idea of public transit than the single rail line (and seemingly underutilized bus lines -- when was the last time you were on a SRO bus?) we have here.

"I spent hours waiting for the bus," she says, laughing. "I know it would be nice to have something to look at while waiting."

Masson is one of around 20 artists chosen for Metro's "Arts in Transit," a project that gets local artists to design the art for and around the windscreens at MetroRail stations. Many of the artists, including Masson, chosen for the new lines that will open in 2014 (East End, North and Southeast Lines) showed up for a reception at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's visitors center.

Though the narrow basement hallway got easily crammed with the modest Tuesday night crowd, the subway tunnel-like setting was probably perfect for the nature of the exhibit.

The 22 artists (19 of them Houstonians) were chosen from an initial pool of 262. The artists then were given feedback from each community on how best to represent the area around the station. Masson did research and found that the original inhabitants of one of her North Line neighborhoods were German and Polish, while the current occupants are mostly Latino. To reflect both heritages, she created a painting that resembles both Delft tiles and talavedas.

Metro spokesperson Jerome Gray said the public art not only is reflective of the neighborhoods and communities around the stations, but it also "contributes to a livable community."

Artist Jesse Sifuentes saw the project as a chance to represent his own community on the East End Line. His windscreens feature images of coffee cups and Model T's, a testament to the neighborhood's history as a coffee-roasting and auto manufacturing port. "The community told me they wanted to see the smell of coffee," he said.

Meanwhile, artist Dan Havel had to actually revamp his design for the station that will go near the new Dynamo stadium. He had to start again when the community wasn't exactly a fan of his design depicting the architectural history of the area. When the stadium construction was announced, he found new inspiration, but, he joked, "I threw out the sports section." His design, a bright, pop-art inspired windscreen with images of baseballs, basketballs, footballs and soccer balls all being caught, is a play on words of "catching" a train.

"What I like about the project is it's site-specific," Havel said.

Through October 10, 5600 Fannin. Or, if you feel like waiting, the lines are expected to be finished in 2014. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit mfah.org.

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