2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Noting the Underground


Art by Subway NYC

Art by Subway NYC

Art by Subway NYC

Art by Subway NYC

Art by Subway NYC

Art by Subway NYC

A bored commuter develops a guide to NYC subway art

It’s a long ride from south Brooklyn to 120th Street. To pass the time during his subway commute last summer, Matt Vincent, Associate Web Editor, would check out the mosaics and other commissioned artwork on station platforms mezzanines.

Vincent’s interest grew out of more than chance observation. In a TC course titled "Historical Foundations in Art Education," taught by Ami Kantawala, he had written a research paper on the history of mosaic tile design in the New York City subway.

When Vincent visited the MTA Arts for Transit Website to learn more about the art in the stations, he noticed that MTA Developer Resources at MTA.info offers an assortment of train, schedule and station data available to the public in form of XML feeds.  The proverbial lightbulb went on in his head, and months later, he has given the world “Art by Subway NYC,” an app for iPhone or iPod Touch that provides a comprehensive guide to commissioned artworks within the New York City subway system.  “Art by Subway NYC” – which does not require WiFi, and thus can work above and below ground -- integrates the data feeds supplied by MTA Developer Resources, paired with photographs of station art taken by Vincent himself.

“Once I had a handle on the technology to create the app, I discovered that perhaps the greatest challenge of this project was going to be obtaining images of the artwork,” says Vincent, who is working on his master’s degree in Art and Art Education. “The MTA is very protective of their Art for Transit photography and had mentioned they were talking to other developers about licensing their image library, so I decided to take the pictures myself.” Armed with a Canon Digital SLR camera, he spent much of this past summer plotting train routes to places like Coney Island, home of the old BMT station renovated by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company; Flushing, home of the “Happy World” ceramic tile installation; and the five stations on the Queens-Brooklyn border on the JZ line, home of Vincent’s personal favorite, “Five Points of Observation”, a series of large wire-mesh faces thrusting out from the platform windscreens.  

Not that the technological development of “Art by Subway NYC” was such a simple matter.  To create the data navigation architecture for his app, Vincent took another TC course --the Intro to iPhone Development workshop taught by Cameron Fadjo -- and taught himself the basics of Objective-C and xCode, the development environment for Apple iOS. He spent months tinkering, reading tutorials and bouncing ideas off friends and co-workers. Finally, with all his images in hand, he had to test and package the app and submit it for approval to the iTunes management team.  With that hurdle cleared, “Art by Subway NYC” now retails for $1.99 in the Apple iTunes store. It is available at an Educators Discount through Apple if purchased for use as a learning tool by an academic institution.

Vincent has since submitted Art by Subway NYC to the MTAappquest contest (http://mtaappquest.com/submissions/3847-art-by-subway-nyc),  which is open to all developers who interested in providing ways to improve the transit experience of MTA riders.  The app is also featured on the MTA website at http://www.mta.info/apps/index.html.
To learn more about Art by Subway NYC, visit www.mattvincentart.com.

See Art by Subway NYC in action:

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