Today’s Friday 5 comes from Joelle Blackstock, a NYC Civic Corps volunteer currently serving the NY Writer’s Coalition. She is from Hollis, Queens, and has a BA in Film & African American Studies and a MA in Africana Studies. Her Master’s thesis, “The Scourged Back of Hip Hop: the Commodification of the Wounded Black Body,” explores how the black body in pain is made available for public consumption in hip hop.
Social media is still buzzing about Jay Z’s train ride on October 6, 2012 from Canal Street to the Atlantic Terminal for his final performance at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. While it was a big shock to passengers, he is not the first or the only celebrity to tread the NYC Subway system. In 2006, his wife (then girlfriend), Beyoncé rode the Train to promote the release of her B’Day album and recently, Huffington Post assembled a photo album of celebrities who have taken a ride on the subway. The album includes stars from Hugh Jackman and Zoe Saldana to Katie Holmes who was photographed riding the uptown-bound train on October 10, 2012 to rehearsal for her Broadway play “Dead Accounts”.
Performers’ use of NYC public transportation is nothing new. Jay Z’s subway ride is an understatement considering, many artists have not only rode the subway for years, but they have used subway platforms, mezzanines, and subway cars as a way to offer live entertainment to daily commuters. On October 10, 2012, Rick Springfield, Austrialian singer and songwriter recently released a new album and took to NYC’s public rail system to promote it. With nothing but an acoustic guitar and a MetroCard, he performed at 34th Street – Penn Station, 42nd Street subway stop, and then on the train in between performances.
Street performers have existed in New York City for decades according to the Street Performers’ Advocacy Project, an organization formed in 1996 by musicians and activists who wanted to make known the contributions of street and subway performers to the sense of community, expression, and pride in New York City. They state that immigrants have largely contributed to this movement with German marching bands and Italian organ grinders serenading women below their tenement windows. Then during the Great Depression, banjo players were set up on subway and elevated platforms. It was not until the 1930s that authorities started to view street performances as a threat to safety and interference to the traffic flow because of panhandling. Thus, in the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia made it illegal to perform on city streets. Despite this law, artists continued to perform on subway platforms and in subway cars such as in the 1960s with African-American doo-wop singers.
Live entertainment on public transportation had become a New York City tradition. Thus, in the 1980s, the MTA launched the MTA Arts for Transit program which was born out of the diverse culture of New York City and sought to bring this culture through the arts to daily commuters. By presenting both visual and performing arts projects in subways and commuter rail stations daily, the MTA hopes to encourage the use of public transportation. What started out as a way to revive a century-old transportation network through the extensive use of ceramic tile, terra cotta, and mosaics to introduce contemporary art and design, the Arts for Transit program has now branched off into several arenas. This program now houses other projects such as Music Under New York (MUNY), Transit Poster Program, Poetry in Motion, and the Lightbox Project. Since its inception in 1985, the MUNY has presented subway passengers with over 7,500 performances by 350 musicians at 30 locations throughout the subway rails. The MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design website also offers biographies of performers as well as samples of their work.
Therefore, when you take part in a street performance on the commuter rails, consider it part of an urban tradition, as long as you abide the Rules of Conduct defined by the MTA. Here a great locations to catch a performance on the NY commuter rail system:
For more, check out Street Performers TV.