Ethics in the City: Theresa Enright

Ethics in the City

Underground Arts: The Cultural Politics of Mass Transit

Abstract: In the past two decades, cities around the world have tied investments in public transit to high-profile initiatives of art, design, architecture, and cultural programming. While transit art is proliferating, and has become a standard element of infrastructure planning, it is not well understood why municipalities and transit authorities are prioritizing the arts, or what function this cultural production plays in broader dynamics of urban development. This talk considers the close association between art and infrastructure investment with a focus on Toronto’s urban rail network. It asks: What accounts for the proliferation of transit art today? Where, how, and why is this occurring? And with what effects?

Through investigating the cultural politics of transit, the paper identifies transit art as an important means for representing, imagining, producing, and organizing urban space and urban society. In line with existing critical research on public art, the paper finds that art and design are being used to ‘clean up’ struggling and defunded public utilities, to promote speculative financial investment, and to rebrand aspiring cities through culture-led placemaking. However, it also finds that transit art and design have less obvious functions—turning transit networks into valuable cultural assets, promoting vibrant public spheres, building communities, generating dynamic metropolitan imaginaries, and placing people and neighbourhoods in a hypermobile world.

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Theresa EnrightTheresa Enright
University of Toronto
Political Science

Wed, Apr 10, 2019
04:00 PM - 06:00 PM
Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto
Rm 200, Larkin Building