Skift Take

Not only would a popular mural at the Port Authority Bus Terminal attract more tourists to the western edge of Times Square, a welcome turn for post-pandemic recovery in the Big Apple, but it would also boost local businesses and pretty up the dismal-looking station.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York has been described as the “single worst place on planet Earth.” But when Jerry Scupp, the vice president of the Garment District Alliance, looks at it, he sees an opportunity to beautify a major entry point into the city. And he considers art the method to do so.

So the Garment District Alliance has put out an open call for artists to create a new mural that aims to make the enormous transportation hub a much more pleasant environment for commuters, locals and tourists. And drive even more art aficionados to visit New York.

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The non-profit organization that works to promote and develop Manhattan’s Garment District is collaborating with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to unveil a block-wide mural to be installed on 40th Street between 8th and 9th avenues this fall  that’s part of a $10 billion redevelopment plan for the enormous bus station. Although murals have been credited with making numerous places more aesthetically pleasing, Scupp sees the piece of art as improving more than just the appearance of a prominent edifice in Midtown Manhattan.

“It’s not just about the neighborhood beautification or building beautification,” he said. “It’s about the particular location which is an entry point into the city. It’s an entry point for people traveling by bus and also for people traveling by car.”

“As things are opening up, we wanted to have this mural at one of those gateways to New York.”

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Despite its less than glamorous reputation, the bus terminal has long served as a popular setting for art as more than 20,000 displays have appeared on its walls, according to the Port Authority’s Myron Johnson. “We take pride in being one of the region’s most visible arts and cultural spaces,” said Johnson, who manages the facility’s film, music and arts projects.

The location is one reason why Scupp feels many artists have inquired about the competition. While the Garment District Alliance has received roughly 50 submissions up to this point, he believes the number will definitely increase prior to the July 15 deadline.

“(Artists) see its value. Not just a monetary value. But they know that their work will be seen by millions,” Scupp said.

Probably more than 27 million annually, he stated. A figure that he said includes “pedestrians, people driving by in cars, and also commuters through the terminal. That’s not including the sort of social media following you get from things like this. It’ll be an attraction.”

An attraction that could go a long way in helping make the arts more powerful in New York State, whose arts and cultural industries generated $123.2 billion for the U.S. economy in 2019. “[The project] is a way to get art to people who might not go to museums and galleries,” Scupp said.

Certainly, art pulls many visitors to New York City. Even in Covid-stricken 2020, the Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomed more than 1.1 million visitors, ranking ninth among art museums worldwide. And popular pieces of art in outdoor settings not requiring an admission fee could become major attractions in a city whose tourism industry was booming prior to the pandemic. New York City welcomed 66.6 million visitors in 2019, the tenth consecutive year the city had established a record for most tourist arrivals.

The mural could help the city join a list of destinations using Instagram-friendly art to drive tourist numbers. But how did it come about? Scupp responded that the project was actually the idea of Garment District Alliance President Barbara A. Blair. But it’s also the product of a long-standing relationship the organization has with the bus terminal.

“The Port Authority Midtown Bus Terminal has a long history of collaborating with the Garment District Alliance on initiatives that seek to benefit and beautify the community around the facility,” said Mark Schaff, the facility’s general manager.

So what would make the art project a success? When asked that question, Scupp chuckled at first before expanding on the topic in a serious manner. “The fact we’re even doing it,” he said. “But we want something that sends out a positive message about returning to the city, about visiting the city, and about our uplifting resiliency.”

“If that message can get out there and can encourage people to come back to New York, to return to their offices, to return to the shows and restaurants and all the things that make this place great, then it’ll be a success.”

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Tags: art, New York, new york city, nyc, port authority

Photo credit: The Port Authority Bus Terminal should become a more pleasant place to visit in the near future. Rob Young / Flickr

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