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Design & Culture

"My day is transformed by the arts" - UITP Summit speaker Maya Emsden

  • Global
  • North America
  • Customer service excellence
How LA Metro's Maya Emsden uses art for better journeys

As Executive Officer, Customer Experience with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Maya Emsden oversees award-winning arts, design, and cultural programs. They engage communities and add vibrancy and humanity to LA Metro’s transit projects, facilities, and services.

At the UITP Summit in Barcelona, Maya moderates the session ‘Art at the heart of public transport: making passenger journeys a cultural experience’. “When I see or hear how someone’s journey was uplifted or impacted by a work of art. That is a truly humbling experience and moves me.”

Discover more about Maya on the UITP Summit website.

Art for a vibrant culture, positive environment and inclusion

What impact can art have on a public transport network and a city as a whole?

Our focus has always been on the impact that art can have on the  experience of the individual transit rider, whether subtly over time or powerfully in a moment. We are dedicated to supporting and strengthening LA’s vibrant cultural life and to making art accessible and visible throughout the transit system in one of the world’s cultural capitals.

The work we do is very visible and positively impacts millions every day. We are fortunate that our agency’s leadership has always emphasized the importance of art in our system for nearly four decades. While we are honored to have received numerous awards and positive press over the years it is the gratitude and positive reactions we receive from our customers that we love the most.

Introducing and integrating artwork into the customer experience tells the public that Metro cares, that the agency is invested in creating a positive environment for our riders.

And specifically when it comes to social inclusion, do you see a link?

We are looking for artists that reflect the wide diversity of LA county and ridership that we have. We try to have something for everyone. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that everything is for everyone, but there’s something for everyone. We seek to provide increased and equitable access to arts and culture for our diverse ridership and to move people through the arts.

Our projects and programs reflect our communities because we actively, intentionally and proudly pursue a path of inclusion. We commission artists at all career levels and we have created technical assistance initiatives and career pathway opportunities that have led to broader diversity at our own agency and within the field.

From a quick pass, to an enjoyable wait

How do your projects differ per location?

All of the projects we do are site specific. Metro art staff spend a lot of very thoughtful time tailoring opportunities they know will resonate. We never lose sight of the fact that the work we are doing serves transit riders.

So if a site is a passageway through which people are passing quickly and frequently we commission work that is appropriate for that type of environment. This would be very different from a site where a transit rider is, say, more stationary while waiting for a train. We put a lot of attention to detail into every project and I think it shows riders that not only do we care about the artwork, the station, the whole transit experience—but by extension that we care about them. It’s actually very personal.

Artists dive deeply into exploring the multi-layered aspects of a site, each with their own individual approach, and develop artworks that are unique and created specifically for their location. It’s really quite magical to see how each artist develops and realizes a site specific work. And then to see how those works impact our riders in such meaningful ways.

Keep cities moving and alive

Can you describe a personal experience on public transport where art changed your experience, or made an impact?

The commissions we’ve done are like children—I love them all! I am an unusual southern California resident in that I do not own a car. I am fortunate: my office is at the hub of the Metro system and adjacent to both historic Union Station as well as a contemporary multi-modal hub.

And every day as I pass through these transit spaces on my way to the office my day is transformed by the arts… it might be a quick flash of color because I am in a hurry, or it might be seeing an artwork I have seen a thousand times in an unexpected new way as I wait for a train.

However what probably moves me most is when I see or hear from others who share how their journeys have been uplifted or impacted by a work of art. That is a truly humbling and joyous experience and drives my wonderful team and I to do the work we do.

Finally, what are you looking forward to at the UITP Global Public Transport Summit? And what do you hope to learn?

Wow, that’s a difficult question as I am looking forward to so much about the Summit! Of course the number one thing is the opportunity to interface with, and learn from, others in the transport industry. To share stories, best practices, lessons learned. The joys and the challenges of the important work that this sector does each and every day to keep our cities moving and alive.

Bright Light of the City

As the UITP Global Public Transport Summit draws closer, we explore the innovations, research, and the people behind our six themes.

This article falls within the theme ofInnovative and Resilient Operations. Discover the other themes and programme of the 2023 UITP Summit! The UITP Global Public Transport Summit is the world’s biggest event dedicated to sustainable mobility which brings together all transport modes, industry authorities and operators, as well as exhibitors.

Under the theme “Bright Light of the City”, access a wide range of thematic sessions, knowledge and networking opportunities in Barcelona from 4 to 7 June.

More on the Metro Art program

Click here for more information about the Metro Art program. Follow Metro Art on Facebook  and Instagram, and subscribe for email updates.

And discover the three latest new stops on Instagram.

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