By Coco Mault

It’s easy to get into a commuting routine, especially for rail commuters. After all, train tracks don’t easily change paths. But forget to bring a book and there isn’t much to keep a person occupied while waiting for a train. It seems Metro Transit and the Metropolitan Council had this in mind when planning Minneapolis’s train system, because at each of the 19 station stops there are little surprises that just may have some folks wanting to catch the next train instead.

Each station is a kind of art-stop, not just a boarding platform, and the artwork is seen by thousands of people each day. According to the Metropolitan Council, there was an average of 30,500 riders each weekday in 2008 along the 12-mile long Hiawatha line. There is a variety of pieces at each stop; not only are there painted and photograph-like images, there are also sculptures, interactive audio displays, and video installations. Rather than staring down the tracks, here are just a few pieces that will better amuse waiting commuters.

(credit: Coco Mault)

Cedar-Riverside Station
Julie Snow Architects
Tom Rose, artist
Untitled, 2003
Glass canopy constellation design

Be sure to look up at this covered station. The ever-recognizable Riverside apartment buildings are immediately eye-catching with their boldly painted panels. But look past those structures, straight up into the sky. There is too much light pollution in the city to do any significant star-gazing, so the clear panels of this station just may serve as a reminder that the stars really are still up there — the rooftop of this station is decorated with various constellations.

(credit: Coco Mault)

Lake Street/Midtown Station
Julie Snow Architects
Thomas Rose, architectural design team artist
JoAnn Verburg, artist
Wonder, 2004
Colored glass canopy panels
anet Zweig, artist
Small Kindnesses, Weather Permitting, 2004
Interactive audio/visual kiosks

Even on a gloomy day, this station offers a brighter environment with brightly colored panels. Large pink, blue, and yellow windows greet visitors at this station, located high over Lake Street. Coordinating nicely with these rainbow colored panels is another art piece located further out onto the platform. A stainless steel box demands visitors to “ring the bell and see.” There is a button that, when pushed, triggers a mechanism that rings a bell and a voice begins telling a story about a rainbow. There is a small view-finder, and looking in it there appears to be an image of a flower; it’s a little difficult to see through the aged Plexiglas.

There are many of these stainless steel installation pieces along the Hiawatha Line, each with its own title, but they all share a similar subtitle. For example, at this station, the subtitle is “small kindnesses, weather permitting #4.” The only difference between all of them, aside from the audio and visual elements, is their number.

(credit: Coco Mault)

50th Street/Minnehaha Park Station
Deborah Mersky, artist
Untitled, 2004
Stainless steel decorative fencing

Much of the artwork along the Light Rail has something to do with Minnesota’s weather and natural environments. There is another stainless steel display box here, offering visitors an encouraging message to “go ahead and let it snow.” A large key handle protrudes from the side of the box and turning it will flip a snow-globe on the inside of the box. Another story accompanies this as well.

The scene-stealing piece at this station also acts as a fence between the platform and Highway 55 — also known as Hiawatha Avenue. Large pinwheel, flower, and wild grasses shapes have been cut out of metal panels — they are about waist-high and line the platform along with trees and a boulevard of tall grass. There are single panels that showcase a single cut-out that looks strikingly similar to the leaf shape of the young trees planted right in front of it.

(credit: Coco Mault)

American Boulevard Station

This station provides another impressive fence structure. It is a bit rustier than the shiny silver-colored fence at 50th Street, and it offers some different indigenous nature scenes such as birds and plants. What makes this especially unique is that it appears that some of the shapes are cut from old newspaper printing plates and are attached over parts of the main, rusty fence. Look closely enough and try to guess what section of newspaper is included in the fence. Some of it looks to be from the stock reports.

(credit: Coco Mault)

Bloomington Central Station
TKDA, architects
David Allen and David Showalter, artists
Apologies To Fibonacci, 2004
Pattern for brick paving
JoAnn Verburg, artist
Disappearing Act: In Transit, 2004
Photographic imagery on glass windscreen panels

At first there appears to be no art at this station, except perhaps for the structure itself. There is a park across the tracks that offers some impressive views — there are tall sculptures that look like stripped trees that jut out from the ground at odd angles. There are also walking paths, small fountains, and plenty of seating. But the platform itself seems a bit barren. There is something to see here though — it’s just a little invisible at first. As with all of the stations, there are glass enclosures to protect commuters from the elements. These glass surfaces catch every reflection and every glare, so at this station the image on one of the windows could be mistaken for a reflection of an actual tree. But there are no trees nearby as old as the one on the window. And so on closer inspection, the tree is actually a translucent image that resembles a film negative that only exists on the glass.