Looking for a diverse assortment of art by artists in and beyond Arizona? Consider jumping on the Valley Metro Light Rail, where you'll find dozens of artworks from terrazzo floors infused with historical themes to towering sculptures inspired by local plants and people. To get the full effect, travel the light rail during both day and evening, so you can enjoy the many works that are illuminated after dark. Here's a guide to what you'll find along light rail routes in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa.
Matthew & Maria Salenger
19th Avenue/Dunlap Avenue
Tempe architects and coLAB Studio founders Matthew and Maria Salenger created two installations for the 19th Avenue/Dunlap station. For the station’s park-and-ride area, they designed nine lemon yellow cones featuring laser-cut images – inspired by drawings made by local students asked to re-imagine their schools – that are suspended from a 3,600-square-foot open canopy. For the station platform, they created red raspberry-colored metal panels featuring architectural designs created for Phoenix during the last century but never built.
19th Avenue/Northern Avenue
Texas artist Deborah Mersky designed bright yellow metal screens and terrazzo carpets set in concrete, which reference the importance of pollination and the fact that migration is an experience shared by humans and other creatures. Together, they present imagery of cactus, blooming flowers, bats, birds, bees, and moths – each reminding viewers of the essential role traveling toward particular destinations plays within nature.
Franka Diehnelt & Claudia Reisenberger
Merge Conceptual Design
19th Avenue/Glendale Avenue
California artists and co-owners of the artist collective Merge Conceptual Design Franka Diehnelt and Claudia Reisenberger created an installation inspired by the possible origin of the name “Arizona” in a Basque word for “the good oak tree.” The installation comprises five abstract trees with metal sequin leaves that throw shadows onto the station platform in order to replicate the feel of taking a nature walk.
Montebello Avenue/19th Avenue
Phoenix artist Robert Adams worked with the architect for the initial terminus of the light rail to create a sleek, modern aesthetic that includes 76 dichromatic panels painted with metallic purple paint installed atop station columns. They’re perforated in various sizes and locations to create a moiré effect. Look for more of Adams’ work when you visit the Phoenix Art Museum or Phoenix Theatre, where a long passageway features his Hall of Mirrors with shifting red and blue lighting.
19th Avenue/Camelback Road
Chicago artist Josh Garber created a 30-foot sculpture called Lucent comprising a series of segments, with each rising out of the segment below to create “an abstract, organic edifice.” The sculpture’s exterior surface, created with more than 40,000 aluminum bars, reflects the natural light as it shifts through the day. At night, the work is illuminated by colored light along the bottom portion of each section. The design was inspired by conversations with community members who spoke of wanting a “jewel” for their neighborhood that could be spotted from a distance.
Seventh Avenue/Camelback Road
Phoenix artist Nubia Owens created more than 200 terrazzo pavers that wind through various parts of the platform, using imagery that “ranges from the straightforward to the metaphysical” and from “obvious to abstract.” Several reference the local environment or the natural world, and all are meant to reinforce the idea that it’s sometimes better to travel than to arrive.
Landmark, Trough, Seat and Tree
Central Avenue/Camelback Road
New York artist Ilan Averbuch created a 24-foot ring of desert stones called Landmark, which references the Hopi belief that life is a circle we all enter at a particular point. He also created two smaller-scale sculptures installed nearby, titled Trough and Seat and Tree, inspired by “the area’s original canals and water systems."
Campbell Avenue/Central Avenue
Local artist and former teacher Al Price used the shape of a hyperbolic parabola to create a three-dimensional grid meant to convey a sense of undulation and flow. Price created Hyperbolics using 32 stainless-steel truss arcs woven into four twisted waves.
Here We Are
Indian School Road/Central Avenue
Tucson artist Mary Lucking’s Here We Are is installed adjacent to Steele Indian School Park, which was once home to the Phoenix Indian School. Lucking tells the stories of those who lived here during the mid-20th century using glass panels, terrazzo flooring, and columns containing photo panels.
Osborn Road/Central Avenue
North Carolina artist Tom Sayre created Tapping Time by bronze casting various types of foot- and shoe-prints that reflect the diversity of people using the light rail. Some are barefoot, others in work boots. Some wear footwear traditional in other countries. It’s meant to conjure the images of 100 people boarding or exiting a light rail train at the station. Those who look carefully will see imprints of moccasins, flip flops, cowboy boots, and military boots, as well as bronze markings for a cane, wheelchair, and stroller.
Thomas Road/Central Avenue
Washington artist Brian Goldbloom created a sequential series of carvings set on cylinders that allow viewers to turn them as they explore images showing the “eventual emergence by degrees of the presence of water, indications of life, and finally, details of an encroaching civilization." He also created several granite benches showing the ways nature is touched by encroaching civilization.
Jamex and Einar De La Torre
Encanto Boulevard/Central Avenue
Artists Jamex and Einar De La Torre, who travel between studios in Mexico and California, created an installation called Appropriated Identity, which features local landmarks coupled with pre-Columbian Indian as well as contemporary cultural motifs. Their installation also includes rotating bronze boxes with narrative imagery inspired by Mayan glyphs, as well as a bronze sculpture meant as a modern iteration on ancient Mayan sculpture.
A Thousand Points of Light, Artist on a Hot Tile Roof
McDowell Road/Central Avenue
Phoenix artist Michael Maglich, who passed away in 2007, left behind several works of public art, including his sculptural pieces on the light rail station near Burton Barr Central Library collectively called A Thousand Points of Light and Artist on a Hot Tile Roof, which are full of references to artists and art history, as well as humor. You’ll find more Maglich work — his series of bronze bolo ties created for Phoenix Public Art — installed near a section of the light rail that runs past the Phoenix Convention Center.
La Sombra Danza
San Francisco artist Peter Richards created his La Sombra Danza shade structure for a triangular plaza in Roosevelt Row, which has been activated by local artists with performances including The Light Rail Plays. Richards’ two-layered, kinetic structure includes perforated metal panels that create fun shadows on nearby spaces as the sun shifts around them.
Van Buren Street/Central Avenue, Van Buren Street/First Avenue
Washington artist Reis Neimi created a stainless-steel ribbon running along 320-foot railings on either side of the platform. Hand-forged with various textures and grains, they’re meant to convey the sense of movement created by the region’s bustling student population. Neimi’s scroll design references architectural elements of historic buildings as well as classic western leatherwork.
Downtown Justice, Downtown Work and Play
Washington Street/Central Avenue, Jefferson Street/First Avenue
Tucson artist Stephen Farley created Downtown Justice for the Jefferson/First Avenue station, which features enamel panels depicting historic scenes and artifacts — as well as a trio of large terrazzo medallions on the platform which depict key justice-related figures, plus “municipal and court references.” They’re meant to remind viewers that justice is a matter of conscious choices rather than a mere theoretical construct. For the Washington Street/Central Avenue station, Farley created Downtown Work and Play, comprising porcelain enamel panels depicting scenes of downtown life such as working and shopping.
Third Street/Washington Street, Third Street/Jefferson Street
Los Angeles artist Cliff Garten created Brancusi-inspired towers bearing repetitive linear elements, which he calls Station Beacons. The silver towers are infused at night with colored lights, which are especially intriguing when viewed from up close and underneath as if looking into a giant kaleidoscope of neon color.
Victor Mario Zaballa
12th Street/Washington Street, 12th Street/Jefferson Street
San Francisco artist Victor Mario Zaballa gathered stories and photograph from neighborhoods near this station, which he incorporated into handpainted tiles mirroring quilt squares for an installation titled Arizona Quilts. His images reflect the neighborhood’s diversity while paying homage to the role of quilts in world cultures. His railings bordering each tiled quilt square mirror Mexican paper-cut art.
City in Transition
24th Street/Washington Street, 24th Street/Jefferson Street
Phoenix artist Kevin Berry created two large sand-cast bronze panels that reference “the site’s early history and transformation” as well as “an interpretation of the current landscape.” Featured imagery for his City in Transition includes stream irrigation, industrial mechanics, skyscrapers, homes, and cellular communication towers — as well as a setting sun and rising moon.
Stuart Keeler and Michael Machnic
38th Street/Washington Street
Pacific Northwest artists Stuart Keeler and Michael Machnic created an astrological tool called Sunspot that's meant to mark the passage of time through the shifting path of the sun. Its wing forms were inspired by “the nearby airport and aerospace industry,” and each has a small cutout through which sun shines onto a corresponding metal disc on the platform at noon on the 21st day of each month. The work references both the Hokoham culture celebrated at the nearby Pueblo Grande Museum, and the study of astronomy, math, and history at Gateway Community College.
44th Street/Washington Street
Phoenix artist Mona Higuchi created Cloud Canopy, a series of metal screens with circular cutouts that create shadows on the platform as the light shines through them. Her cutouts reference “a multi-ethnic tradition of linear cloud imagery” as well as Hohokam scroll patterns evident in works exhibited at the nearby Pueblo Grande Museum.
Priest Drive/Washington Street
Tempe artist Laurie Lundquist created a metaphorical canal referencing the nearby headquarters of the Salt River Project. Red granite walls bear canal-related text, and pennies that reflect the light are suspended from wavy metal structures overhead. The installation, titled Papago Portal, also includes granite pavers with text referencing “points of interest visible from the station.”
Tempe Light Rail Transit Bridge
Tempe Town Lake Bridge
Seattle artist Buster Simpson worked with bridge designers to create a light-infused structure installed adjacent to a historic railroad bridge. Steel mesh that’s transparent during the day is lit each night by thousands of LEDs with shifting colors and patterns. Simpson’s installation also includes abutments “with a mix of historical, scientific, and natural references,” a concrete wall created with dried and cracked mud from the Salt River, porcelain enamel panels incorporating “historic bridge photos and flood plain documents,” and a triangular sculpture made of mock-trusses.
Mill Avenue/Third Street
Massachusetts artist Catherine Widgery’s Shadow Play includes white-on-white outlines of leaves and tree branches on overhead canopies, in addition to glass panels etched with bitmap forms to create the shapes of a mesquite tree. Widgery conceived the work as a light fossil, suggesting that these trees may one day disappear from the desert.
Veterans Way/College Avenue
Portland artist Ted Savinar created work mindful of the station’s proximity to ASU and Tempe's “A” Mountain. The station is dotted with 18 bronze sculptures set atop nine stone-clad pedestals. These sculptures for his installation, titled Land Marks, depict landmarks including Hayden Flour Mill, ASU Gammage, Tovrea Castle, and many more. Each pedestal features quotations from visually impaired residents about their experiences with these landmarks.
Bill Will and Norie Sato
The Spirit of Inquiry, Cabinet of Curiosities
University Drive/Rural Road
Portland artist Bill Will and Seattle artist Norie Sato created an installation called The Spirit of Inquiry, which comprises six elements including a spherical sculpture bearing “etched text of great thinkers” (including Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Rios) and two shelves bearing objects related to art, science, education, and history. The station also features their whimsical Cabinet of Curiosities, which includes shelves dotted with bronze replicas of items including a doll’s head, light bulb, bowling ball, and more.
Christine Bourdette, Dan Corson, Benson Shaw, Suikang Zhao
Points of View, Saguaro Soul, Energize, Hands
Dorsey Lane/Apache Boulevard
A series of four light rail stations along Apache Boulevard feature works by several artists. Works located at this station include New York artist Suikang Zhao’s towering 21-foot-tall Hands with lacy interwoven elements suggesting conversations in multiple languages, which is a theme recurrent in her work. They also include Seattle artist Dan Corson, whose chrome Saguaro Soul depicts a hollowed-out section of cactus, and Seattle artist Benson Shaw's Energize pavers, which share brief snippets of anecdotes shared by those living in the Apache neighborhood. The station also has mosaic boxes filled with human and animal figures, which comprise the work Points of View by Portland artist Christine Bourdette.
Christine Bourdette, Dan Corson, Benson Shaw, Suikang Zhao
Life & Growth
McClintock Drive/Apache Boulevard
Works at this station, collectively titled Life & Growth, explore “themes of change and growth in the community, its people, commerce and lifestyles." New York artist Suikang Zhao created a pair of 20-foot-tall pillars that stand at each end of the station. The pillars, which are titled Splitting Columns, blend translations of Native American texts into multiple languages — thus referencing “the influx of immigrants and cultures into the area.” Seattle artist Dan Corson created Water Chandeliers using light blue five-gallon water bottles that glow at night. Another Seattle artist, Benson Shaw, created an installation called Grow comprising glass-inlaid pavers referencing the region’s agricultural roots. Portland artist Christine Bourdette created Time Cycles comprising several hourglass-shaped openings filled with ceramic works referencing growing corn along with the rising and setting of the sun.
Christine Bourdette, Dan Corson, Benson Shaw, Suikang Zhao
Works by Portland artist Christine Bourdette, New York artist Suikang Zhao, and Seattle artists Dan Corson and Benson Shaw located at this station explore “prominent Hispanic traditions, the weave of languages, and the strong family structure” and taken together are titled Domestic Fabric. Shaw’s Traverse pavers feature a mix of facts about local landmarks and memories of local residents. Bourdette’s Domestic Structure comprises ceramic tile works that reference family trees and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Zhao’s Writing Vine placed above the station’s canopy references layers of language and communication. Corson’s Carpet of Languages uses real and fictional text related to grandmothers with medallions that reference “more than 70 languages spoken in the area.”
Christine Bourdette, Dan Corson, Benson Shaw
Division and Reconnection
Price 101 Freeway/Apache Boulevard
Portland artist Christine Bourdette and Seattle artists Dan Corson and Benson Shaw created works for this station that are collectively called Division and Reconnection. Bourdette’s ceramic works titled Links & the Circuitous Path feature links and serpentine shapes “addressing the flow of change.” Corson’s v is located above the canopy line and comprises perforated louvres which are complemented by neon tubes. Shaw’s Merge includes blue pavers with images and text culled from Tempe’s “canal history and auto culture.”
Phoenix artist Brad Konick created Seed Giver, a towering sculpture modeled after stacking baskets which references both ancient native cultures and modern technology. One portion of the tower depicts an open seed pod, and the installation also includes paving inlays meant to signify scattered seeds.
Daniel Martin Diaz
Alma School/Main Street
Tucson artist Daniel Martin Diaz created cut metal screens depicting organic and scientific patterns that reference desert communities. His Emergence includes a kinetic pinwheel sculpture that’s responsive to the wind, as well as imagery inspired by the natural design of the interior of the saguaro and other types of cacti.
Country Club Rad/Main Street
Portland artist Ed Carpenter created a 30-foot-tall steel and glass work titled Mesaflora in reference to the region’s blooming plant life. The piece features dichroic glass which shines and reflects in the sun, but has a different visual presence at night when illuminated with lights.
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Massachusetts artist Ralph Helmick created a 50-foot-high hollow, conical tower comprising silhouettes of the faces of various community members. Drawing Room can be viewed both from afar and by standing inside the tower. At night, it’s illuminated with projected lighting sometimes in colors associated with specific community events or causes.
Sixteen Stories of One Home Town
Mesa Drive/Main Street
Phoenix artist Mary Lucking created Sixteen Stories of One Home Town, which features 16 porcelain panels with storybook imagery. Two 21-foot steel panels bookend the central portion, which depicts a mother and father reading and is meant to convey the passing of stories through the generations.
Find more information about Valley Metro Light Rail art in the 2016 online art guide available on the Valley Metro website.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version, which first appeared in December 2015.