Commuting on BART, the Bay Area’s overcrowded, often filthy subway system, isn’t something that most people would describe as fun. But a handful of riders last week had a different experience when an artist temporarily installed a swing that commuters could play on as they rode.
“It’s such a ripe environment for some sort of joy or fun or connection to take place, just because it’s such a mundane experience and often seen as a negative thing,” says San Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks. “People see it as slow or noisy or dirty, so it seemed like an ideal place to add some vibrancy and some fun.”
Inspired by an artist-in-residence program at Los Angeles’s transportation agency, Franks had been in touch with city officials in San Francisco about doing something similar. When the conversations didn’t go anywhere, he decided to name himself artist-in-residence for BART anyway.
Wearing an official-looking yellow construction vest, he hopped on and off trains for about an hour, installing the swing with carabiners. It wasn’t rush hour, so the subway wasn’t particularly packed. But even when a train car was a little crowded, people made space.
“People were more open to making space, both literally and figuratively, for some fun and entertainment during their ride,” he says. “There was something there that they could all take part in and sort of have a shared experience that wasn’t just everyone with their headphones in, staring at their phones.”
Inside a BART station, Franks installed a hopscotch game leading up to a ticket kiosk. He also placed ads in empty cases, including a hand-drawn recreation of a Craigslist “missed connection” ad that took place at a BART station.
“I was thinking about what happens if this message of love and hope and connection is elevated to a larger audience, visually,” he says.
He hopes that the project may lead the city to create an official artist-in-residence program for BART. “One of the goals was to start that conversation about what it would look like to have someone thinking about this space differently all the time,” says Franks. “When they built it, they built it to get people as fast as possible from point A to point B and they didn’t worry about any sort of social aspects of the stations.”
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