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Advocates ask MBTA to restore funding for public art projects

Beth Galston held a model of the fence that she designed for the new Green Line station.
Beth Galston held a model of the fence that she designed for the new Green Line station.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The MBTA reversed course on its decision to cancel $1.9 million worth of art at the stations planned for a proposed extension of the Green Line into Medford and Somerville, after officials tried to nix the projects to save a fraction of a percent of the extension's ballooning costs.

But, it turns out, the Green Line artists weren't the only ones whose projects were in jeopardy. Last week, artists launched a petition to try to save art for three other MBTA stations.

The story of the Green Line artists who were suddenly told about the art's cancellation struck a chord with the board that oversees the MBTA. Joseph Aiello, chairman of that board, directed the MBTA to restore funding for the art, even though officials are still debating whether the Green Line project will go forward .

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This fall, MBTA officials had been in the process of selecting artists for projects at the forthcoming Silver Line stop in Chelsea, an oft-delayed Blue Hill Avenue commuter rail station, and a renovation of the Wollaston subway station that has long been in planning stages.

In mid-November, the MBTA told semifinalists for those projects that the art was no longer funded.

Joanne Kaliontzis, a Fort Point resident who was in the running for projects at the Chelsea and Blue Hill Avenue stations, said she was informed by e-mail on Nov. 13 that the MBTA wouldn't be completing the projects unless it found other sources of funding.

Wanda Miglus, an artist who had been a semifinalist for the Wollaston station art, also received an e-mail saying her art project had been canceled. The project would have paid about $25,000 in design fees to the artists, according to MBTA documents.

This week, the two signed a letter with 35 others, urging the MBTA to rethink abandoning the projects. MASSCreative, an arts advocacy group, has also started an online petition, which had garnered nearly 300 signatures as of Friday afternoon.

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"Public transportation is one of the great equalizers here in the Commonwealth, and the artwork created for our MBTA stations not only beautifies the stations, but also creates a sense of place and community ownership for people in every walk of life, no matter their neighborhood or income," the letter reads.

On Friday, the MBTA could not provide information on how many projects were put on hold, how much it would cost, and why the agency had canceled the projects. The e-mail that was sent to artists, however, blamed Governor Charlie Baker's recent veto of a separate public art program.

Tracie Konopinski, the senior campaign organizer of MASSCreative, said that the group hopes the MBTA will change its mind on the projects. The agency has a long history with public art, she said.

"Art on public transit helps the T encourage ridership, deter vandalism, and improve the commuter experience," she said. "It just makes sense."

MBTA accessibility, by the numbers

The MBTA's history with riders with disabilities has been rocky.

Groups representing people with disabilities in the early 2000s filed a class-action lawsuit against the MBTA, saying that many of the T's stations couldn't be accessed by those with disabilities. In 2006, the MBTA agreed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on updating its stations so that people who use wheelchairs and walkers and others with disabilities could use public transit.

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Last week, the MBTA's fiscal control board heard an update on how many stations have the working escalators, elevators, and walkways that make them accessible to people with disabilities.

According to the T's statistics, 91 subway stations — or about 71 percent — are accessible to those with physical disabilities. Another six stations are under design or construction to become accessible. That leaves a quarter of the subway stations — 32 — that aren't accessible for people who need wheelchairs or have trouble navigating stairs.

The percentages are similar on the commuter rail. While 99 commuter rail stations are accessible and four stations are under design or construction to be accessible, another 30 — or about 23 percent — are not accessible to many with disabilities.

Bill Henning, executive director of the Boston Center for Independent Living, says having 72 inaccessible stations — including those being worked on — is a problem, but he also says the investment has been significant.

"In the last decade, they've made what I would categorize as steady, determined progress, with a priority especially on stations in high-use areas," he said.

He noted that some key stations are still inaccessible, such as the Red Line's Wollaston station and the Symphony and Hynes Convention Center stops on the Green Line. In fact, the Green Line has the most stops that aren't accessible to people with disabilities, according to the MBTA's statistics.

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But Henning also points out that there have been improvements at stations like Arlington, Copley, Harvard Square, Park Street, State Street, and Porter. He also noted that the heavily used Government Center stop right outside City Hall is being renovated primarily to get new escalators and elevators.

"It's never going to be quick enough, but I also get the sense that they're committed to this," he said.

Laura Brelsford, the MBTA's assistant general manager of systemwide accessibility, told the fiscal control board that officials are in the process of writing a report that prioritizes which stations should be targeted next.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.