Times Square TransformationNew York, NY
The announcement of our ArtPlace America grant coincided with news that we had also received an NEA ArtWorks Presenting Venue grant. This was an affirmation – from groups interested in both arts and urban revitalization – of the underlying mission of the public art programs that we’ve already created for Times Square Arts. Unlike a typical public art program that must work to attract new audiences, Times Square Arts already has one of the largest and most diverse audiences in the world – the hundreds of thousands of people who visit, work, and experience culture in Times Square every day. Given our unique position, we serve as an experimental test-bed from which others may learn from our challenges and successes. Can we curate, guide and create work that will meet our rigorous artistic criteria, engage the general public, and deliver positive outcomes for our district?
To add to the challenge, we reached out for funding at a time of physical transformation for Times Square. During the summer of 2009, the City closed Broadway to vehicular traffic to create pedestrian plazas, greatly expanding the public space at the heart of our district. Since then, the popularity of the plazas among employees and visitors has justified a capital project to permanently transform those blocks of Broadway into more formal, welcoming piazzas. Construction is already underway. Though this may temporarily limit the extent of some programming in Times Square, we will continue to develop our program throughout the project to ensure it does not restrict the energy of the plazas, and so that upon completion, our New York, national and international audiences will already know to look for the creative and surprising in Times Square.
In June, we celebrated three experimental program successes:
• Our one-year anniversary of the Midnight Moment, a daily showing of artist video across 15 LED screens in Times Square. The partnership with the Times Square Advertising Coalition has produced a daily arts presence on some of the most commercially-successful advertising spaces in the world.
• Our third After Hours performance art collaboration with The Clocktower Gallery at the Aspen Social Club (an independent hotel bar within Times Square). Working with distinctive venues throughout our district, we invite experimental artists to draw different audiences to discover some of the quirkiness of Times Square.
• A new collaboration between a broker, a new building on Eighth Avenue, and Aaron Taylor Kuffner with The Gamelatron Bunga Kota. This robotic sonic installation of gamelan instruments performing live ‘concerts’ draws people into the space, makes it attractive for brokers, and offers a respite from the chaos of the area (a frequent request).
We developed these programs to challenge negative perceptions of Times Square and what can be experienced there. We have brokered effective relationships with commercial partners, brought young artists from Brooklyn into Times Square for programming, and started to turn Times Square into a meeting place for artists, tourists, and traditional theater-goers to watch the Midnight Moment.
We know the interest is there: people will individually admit to wanting to claim Times Square as part of their New York. And now, with the funding to support more ambitious projects and partnerships, we ask how can we plan a structure for surprise? How can we encourage risk-taking by our artists while also maintaining our commercial partners? ArtPlace America lends credibility to the program and holds us responsible for sharing our creative placemaking lessons with our colleagues in both the arts and the urban revitalization sectors.
Times Square has always been a place for risk, innovation and creativity, and we have a responsibility to ensure these qualities remain key to our district’s identity.