TriMet’s Public Art Program

*image created by artist Susan Zoccola as part of her 2012 TriMet Public Art proposal

Recap: 12/12/17

Hosted by LWD member Leslee Biggs Randolph at MWA Architects and curated by members Kate MacKinnon + Theresa Minor

Topic:  TriMet’s Public Art Program

TriMet has 300 + public works of art at every scale and each one has it’s own back story. Guest Michelle Traver (TriMet’s Public Art Program Manager) discussed past, current and future TriMet projects, TriMet’s approach to working with artists, and how to get involved in the process. Trimet’s Public Art spans sculpture, architecture and graphic design. 

We learned that not all public transit organizations are equal. TriMet’s policy allocates 1.5% of the civil budget for public arts. They also have and extremely collaborative process, engaging both seasoned public artists as well as emerging artists. They always pay artists for proposals and often times brief them on any relevant location-based information. Committee members collaborate with the artists and often times go through rounds of feedback. We learned from LWD member, Dardinelle Troen of Ditroen that this is not always the case when creating public art. She was awarded a project on Denver’s Gold Line and found that it was very hands off from concept to install. I think we all shared the feeling that TriMet supports and embodies many of the great qualities found in the communities of Portland.

*windscreen designed by Ditroen for RTD Gold Line, Denver

Projects Discussed:

  • Hollywood Transit Station – Michelle’s team was already starting to discuss next steps for updating this station literally days before the tragedy this past May. After the incident, the public created an impactful organic large-scale memorial, TriMet is listening to the public and creating a more permanent memorial here. Just hours before our meeting, Michelle was reviewing RFQ’s from interested artists.
  • Blue Line Rehabilitation Project – TriMet is currently assessing the needs and will update as needed. A seemingly simple addition of a mural by neighborhood artist, Alex Chiu at the 82nd street Max stop has made a huge impact at the station. They are looking at updating about 1 stop every 6 months on this line. 
  • Gresham City Hall Station – This is an example of a successful updated design that they may use for other stations.
  • Rockwood Station – The large-scale fans at the station have become a community symbol. Although these were installed before the density fills in, this is an example of TriMet’s future focused approach – thinking about the potential density and building something that will adapt to that.
  • Orange Line – This project represents a newer ideology when thinking about public art. To create a cohesive feel, TriMet hired artists Buster Simpson and Peg Butler to create a system-wide gesture. It is quickly settle the standards for future updates to the rest of the lines. We also learned that sometimes the general concept comes long before an artist(s) is chosen. In this case, the concept of lighting that represented real-time data was decided upon. They needed to build in the USGS data collection system long before the design/build team was decided upon. 
  • Division Street Transit Center – This is the next large capitol project that will include a bus rapid transit system.
  • Tilikum Crossing – “Bridge of the People” – Carries the Max Orange Line, buses, streetcars, cyclists and pedestrians. The lights change colors based on the Willamette River’s speed, height and water temperature
*Tilikum Crossing in November (photo credit: Sky Schemer)

General Public Art Process:

Every project is different, thus every project has a slightly different process. In the case of a larger project like the Orange Line, it included board participants from RACC, TriMet and Clackamas County. They drew from a short-list of prequalified artists and muralists. They are always looking to expand their list of qualified artists and designers, so if you are interested please see below for more information on how to get on the qualifying lists.

In some cases, Michelle used her in-house graphic designer to create quick mockups as to how the addition of a mural can greatly change a station. She has used these visuals to sell concepts to her team and has gotten the green light on many projects this way.  

How To Get Involved:

  • Regional Arts and Culture Council – Grants for artists in the Portland area, they also hold workshops on public arts. A great local resource if you’re wanting to get involved!
  • Get yourself on emerging artists lists to be considered for future projects
  • Get paired up with experienced artists on a project
  • Reach out to a TriMet Project Manager and ask how you can get involved – a simple but often overlooked approach that they should be receptive to.


  • Cafe –  National database for to find public arts call for entries
  • Americans for the Arts – Resources and tools for artists working in public arts, as well as best practices for the arts.
  • TriMet Public Art – for a look at all TriMet public art projects, email Michelle or sign up for public arts news or artist opportunities
  • New York’s MTA –  include iconic subway mosaics
  • Seattle’s Sound Transit – Their art budget is separate, so this frees them up a bit to create some great work. TriMet has a mutually beneficial relationship with them as they learn from each other as their systems grow and change.
  • Denver’s RTD – An example of a newer system that has potential.
  • Stolkholm’s Metro – is said to be the world’s longest art exhibit, LWD member, Jenya has been and highly recommends it. 
  • Paris Metro – some say could be the gold standard for public transit-oriented art and architecture.