Life evolving behind the lens

Unexpected Art: Lightrail Edition 2

This installment of Unexpected Art: Light Rail Edition takes us further into downtown Minneapolis. The downtown area isn’t the largest around by any means, but it’s big enough to remind you that hey, Minneapolis is far from a small town. The stops here are always milling with traffic, leaving some of the artwork underappreciated. This is especially for our first stop: Nicollet Mall. The vast majority of riders (commuters and otherwise) embark and depart at this station. In an unsurprising twist of irony, this is also the narrowest platform out of all the stations on the Hiawatha Line. Maybe it just feels that way because it’s always crowded. I’ve been on said platform at various non-rush hour times of the day and have had to work to find a place to stand. Rush hour? If you see a train approaching and aren’t in a hurry, you might want to wait until the train has left to get up there. It’s insane. Thus, the most artwork you’ll see on the platform itself is confined to the few benches that are available and the station’s Small Kindness (which I’ll get to in a minute). Here’s a bench.

bench at Nicollet Mall station

The Neiman Marcus building right across from the platform has a couple window displays around the third floor or so that inject a little quirkiness into the view (which aside from the window displays is pretty dull and shaded given the platform’s location surrounded by skyscrapers). I’m not sure how long these have been around, but it certainly helps liven up the lightrail station in an indirect way.

window art at Neiman Marcus

When I set out to photograph all the stations, though, I found that the Nicollet Mall station has artistic merit. It’s all a matter of where you look. In this case, you have to look up.

atop the Nicollet Mall station
Nicollet Mall station roof
roof detail

The design is a cool way to integrate the station’s proximity to the city’s tallest buildings and the city’s location along the Mississippi River. Like the city, the Hiawatha Line follows the river’s path much of the way, and the curving roof structure seen at Nicollet Mall shows up at other stations. I think it’s kind of cool.

Next up is Government Plaza. While a popular stop, I think it’s underrated. Aside from being next to one of my favorite fountains in the city, the artwork at this stop is extensive. Yes, it’s intentional, but I think a lot of people miss it. I know better. Having gone to the area just to photograph the fountain (which I’ll discuss in greater detail some time this summer), I’m familiar with the station’s democracy promoting decor.

being able to work and get there safely
the poster needed in every city in America
a totem to sum up all aspirations
a tough reconciliation

The station shelters are simple but comfortable, and the heated areas are actually larger than at most stations. Likewise, they also have Small Kindnesses, another form of artwork found at many platforms. They weren’t working when I was out there, but I have seen (and heard) them in action during the spring and summer months. Small Kindnesses combine kinetic sculpture with A Prairie Home Companion-esque audio. It’s almost surreal.

shelter at Government Plaza station
recognizing the city's artists
a Small Kindness
a column of promise standing outside City Hall

Our last stop in today’s tour is the Downtown East/Metrodome Station. Long before the Metrodome roof became the butt of every joke in the United States (and the absurdity amuses quite a few within the city itself), this area waited patiently for the development that was erupting westward to make its way over. The light rail has helped with that (along with the moving of the Guthrie Theater to the area and other building projects). Truth be told, the station itself is fairly austere. Behind the southbound side, though, is a plaza used for pregame parties and souvenir stands. It is still used primarily during football season but got much more traffic when the Twins also played at the Metrodome. The decor of the plaza (and to an extent the platform floor) is definitely Native American inspired. I don’t know for sure which specific tribe claims this style, but it looks Lakota to me. I’m not an expert on Native American artwork, so feel free to fill me in on this style. I’m also not entirely sure why this was chosen, but I’m guessing it’s in honor of the Indians that originally lived in that particular area along the Mississippi River.

platform floor at the Metrodome station
the Metrodome station looking northeastward
a sample of the earthy color in front of the Metrodome

The next installment in this series will take us through some of Minneapolis’ quirkiest, most diverse and also poorest neighborhoods. The aesthetics, though, will take you by surprise.

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