Metro Art Shelters Project to Transform Eyesores into Literary Canvasses

In January 2013, Cincinnati City Council voted to ban advertising on public right-of-way. The idea was to rid the city of all those bus bench billboards and other seemingly unsightly ads, but what the ordinance also did was force the removal of advertisements at all bus shelters throughout the city.

In a classic case of unintended consequences, City Council actually may have made the public right-of-way less attractive by making bus shelters to appear as abandoned and leaving scared sidewalk spaces where bus benches once sat.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The situation surrounding the bus shelters was so bad, in fact, that Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI) found, through their annual safety perception survey, that individuals had a negative perception of safety around bus shelters.

While some viewed it as a misstep, ArtWorks and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) saw it as an opportunity to do something different.

Later this month, Cincinnatians will see the former ad space at 24 of these bus shelters, throughout Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, re-purposed as a canvass for local artists. The specific end product will include varied artistic styles all portraying some work of literature.

“Through this collaborative partnership between ArtWorks, SORTA, the Main Library, and DCI, these twelve bus shelters will receive a playful face-lift and add to the public art vibrancy in our central business district,” explained Cait Barnett, Marketing Manager at ArtWorks.

Barnett went on to say that SORTA will clean and paint the shelters and that the lead artist for ArtWorks, Ryan Little, and youth Apprentices between the ages of 14 and 21 will design graphic prints for the empty spaces.

The literary designs, ArtWorks officials say, were determined by the community through a public survey conducted by the Public Library of Cincinnati through June 30. Those literary inspirations came from the following pieces of work:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

  1. Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
  2. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
  3. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  4. Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore
  5. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
  6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  7. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  8. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  9. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  10. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  11. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  12. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown
  13. The Odyssey by Homer
  14. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  15. The Man in the Iron Mask by Paul Mantell
  16. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  17. The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
  18. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  19. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  20. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  21. Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
  22. The Tortoise and the Hare by Aesop
  23. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
  24. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Metro Art Shelters project has also been championed by the Downtown Residents Council (DRC), who is hoping to raise $5,000 for public art throughout Downtown. Those interested in giving to the project can do so through the DRC’s power2give webpage.

According to ArtWorks, all donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar by The Johnson Foundation.

Learn more about power2give in our recent podcast with Greg Lutz from ArtWorks and Laura Belcher from power2give, who was kind enough to call in to the show from Washington D.C.

  • Neil Clingerman

    This is a cool project and all but didn’t the advertisements help fun the desperately cash strapped SORTA?

    • Yes, certainly the ads at the bus shelters helped provide some money for Metro. This broad action taken by council was outside of SORTA’s control however. It was originally pushed for by former councilman Chris Bortz who wanted to eliminate billboards and bus bench ads, but it obviously has caused some other consequences as well.

      The bus shelters left behind without ads in them really do look bad. They look abandoned and uncared for as a result.

    • Neil Clingerman

      This is a nice solution, but It still doesn’t mean that the policy was bad policy to begin with – no wonder the SORTA had to resort to advertisements on the buses which many people complained about. Does this also mean that cafes are banned from putting out chalkboards on the sidewalks?

      Also, I’m kind of a fan of street clutter, it helps make an urban area seem more vibrant – a lot of Cincinnati’s ordinances have been against that and I think it hurts the area IMO – I’d be happy if Vine still looked like it did back in the 1970s but maybe with newer signs of course :).

  • RyanLammi

    Does this mean that the Cincinnati Streetcar cannot have sponsored stops to offset operating costs?

  • Mark Christol

    For a city that prides itself on marketing, it seems kinda dumb to thumb your nose at the advertising/marketing industry. It makes sense that people would think the stop was abandoned without the ads sounds about right, tho.
    There seems to be a bit more advertising inside the buses lately.

  • Matt Jacob

    Classic case of unintended consequences and government working against itself. Shouldn’t part of the solution involve repealing or amending the problem regulations though? It’s great that it’s bringing about what many would consider a natural partnership in civic services, but aren’t bad legacy regulations one of the things holding us back? Simplifying and streamlining operations is what the city needs, not another layer of well intended regulation that the average person or ally agency had to fight through.

  • Brian

    It’s nice to hear that all donations are going to be matched.

    There’s something to be said about a little less ads, and a little more art. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing this plan in action and taking a look at the art myself. It’s only 24 bus shelters after all, that’s really a drop in the bucket, right? Does anyone know how many shelters there are in the city in total?

    Thanks for the info!
    – Brian at