FORT GEORGE — Bright geometric patterns, colorful typography and naturalistic landscapes now fill the 191st Street pedestrian tunnel group of artists who brought their signature styles to the formerly dark and dingy passageway.
The Department of Transportation gave a sneak preview Monday of the public art project, in which four artists and one two-artist team were selected from more than 150 applicants to paint the space.
Last year residents had complained that the tunnel, which leads to the 191st Street 1 train station, felt filthy, dark and dangerous. Since then, the DOT has installed new LED light fixtures, painted over the graffiti and cleaned the tunnel more regularly.
The art project was the final step in beautifying the passage, with contributions from well-known street artists Andrea Von Bujdoss, aka Queen Andrea, and Fernando Carlo Jr., aka Cope2.
Margaret Forgione, the Manhattan Borough Commissioner for the DOT, said the tunnel's new LED lights will not just brighten the pathway.
“They will now also serve another function as gallery lighting for the amazing murals that grace these walls,” she said.
Each artist was assigned a 200-foot section of the 900-foot long tunnel.
“We all feel pretty proud of it and we had a great time working together,” said Von Bujdoss, who lives in Washington Heights.
She also painted the entrance to the tunnel from Broadway, choosing to focus on sending positive messages to the community. Rainbow-hued slogans including “Today is Your Day” and “Bright Lights, Big City” now greet pedestrians making their way through the tunnel on their daily commutes.
Von Bujdoss, who said the tunnel has long been an eyesore for local residents, was excited to be a part of the transformation.
“The community here is families, mostly Latino,” she said. “People aren’t necessarily exposed on a daily basis to the kind of art we’re doing here.”
Carlo Jr. began his career as part of the graffiti movement that grew out of The Bronx in the 1980s. He and other graffiti writers illegally tagged buildings and subway cars, but since then he has been commissioned to paint billboards and design images for a video game.
He said he was pleasantly surprised to be picked for the project.
“I’m a graffiti purist,” Carlo Jr. said. “Sometimes New York doesn’t embrace that. It can still be seen as vandalism.”
Like Von Bujdoss, he also wanted to send a positive message, in this case to other city kids like him.
“A lot of kids walk through here to go to school and sometimes they have no hope,” he said. “I want them to see the words “Follow Your Dreams” every day because it might inspire them to do it.”
Sandra Garcia-Betancourt, director of the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, said that the various pieces were united by their vibrancy.
“It’s all about the community having fun, having a good day, having a good journey,” she said.
While most of the artists who worked on the project are not from Uptown, Garcia-Betancourt felt they have tapped into the spirit of the neighborhood.
“This community is so positive and the people have such a great energy,” she said. “I think they really captured that.”
The tunnel will reopen to the public on Tuesday morning after 5 a.m. The artists will continue to place the finishing touches on their pieces after the tunnel reopens.