Train Stations, Artwork, and Minnesota’s Largest Public Project

“Faces of Rondo”, Victoria Station is one of eighteen stations along the new Green Line connecting downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis in Minnesota. Artwork by Foster Willey; photo by Jerry Mathiason.
“Faces of Rondo”, Victoria Station is one of eighteen stations along the new Green Line connecting downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis in Minnesota. Artwork by Foster Willey; photo by Jerry Mathiason.

On Saturday, June 14, Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Metro Transit unveiled its new Green Line train system, opening eighteen brand new stations and bringing the Twin Cities’ peoples a fully- developed new method of transport.

A $957 million project funded by federal, state, and local sources, the Green Line traverses eleven miles between St. Paul and Minneapolis, running through a number of diverse neighborhoods and cutting directly through the University of Minnesota campus.

As part of their “commitment to excellence,” and dedication to innovation and creativity, Metro Transit additionally commissioned artwork projects for its Green Line stations, encouraging some of today’s most exciting commission artists to shape these now highly trafficked public spaces.

Minneapolis sculptor Foster Willey, Los Angeles painter Roberto Delgado, and Boston artist Catharine Widgery were among the artists who contributed work to the stations, developing an array of different projects that create individualistic personalities for each station.

Indeed, Foster Willey’s terracotta tiles tell the story of the Rondo neighborhood at the Victoria street station, as portraits of residents and leaders highlight the area’s heritage, while his Prairie School- influenced work at the Hamline Station highlights regional motifs by pairing geometric and organic forms.

Roberto Delgado
Silk-screen by Roberto Delgado, detail.

Tackling three stations, Roberto Delgado’s photo silk-screens don the Central, Snelling, and Stadium Village stops, fusing Twin Cities archival photographs with personal snapshots and branding each station with local imagery.

Drawing from icons of the area’s Hmong and Vietnamese communities, Catherine Widgery’s multi-media “River Dragon” colors the Western Avenue station, referencing the Mississippi and Mekong Rivers and connecting the local peoples’ past and present homes.

“I think my main experience [with the Green Line project] is based on the communication with the Asian community and hearing from them and learning about the Hmong and Vietnamese cultures along the Mekong River where many of the local residents come from,” said Widgery, explaining that she wanted the stations at Western to be the “heart of their community”.

River Dragon by Catherine Widgery.
River Dragon by Catherine Widgery.

“The dragon symbolizes life force and good fortune and the sinuous, flowing forms of River Dragon recall both the rivers and the dragon’s body, while the shimmering discs of the spiral dragon “heads” announce the station from a distance”.

Aesthetically appealing, culturally relevant, and a helpful way-finding tool, Widgery’s “River Dragon” looks to be a significant part of the Western Avenue station’s future. As the Green Line becomes an everyday way of getting around, “River Dragon” along with Willey and Delgado’s works will become embedded in the urban landscape which the Twin Cities’ residents move through, becoming fixtures in Minneapolis and St. Paul’s visual culture and turning functional infrastructural spaces into prideful community symbols.

Having been in the works for over four years, the Green Line public art projects are finally accessible to the public after long-term collaborations between the artists, project managers at Metro Transit, and officials at the University of Minnesota.

Speaking on the challenges of cross-country correspondence on such a long-term project, the ever-passionate Roberto Delgado credited Metro Transit’s Alicia Vap for the line’s successful integration of art, praising Vap’s ability to communicate with varied artists and guide them through the commission, development, and installation processes.

All in all, Metro Transit’s attention to art is super impressive, considering that the Green Line’s construction in total, employed 5,500 people, created 200 permanent operations jobs, and will offer the Twin Cities a 24-hour a day transportation option. The largest and most expensive Minnesota public work to date, the Green Line is a massive project in a massively used space — and it will undoubtedly be thought of in connection to its artworks.

–Paul Smirl