Future Meets Past in Muni Art

A few days ago, we were honored to participate in awarding prizes to the winners of this year’s Muni Art Program, organized by San Francisco Beautiful, whose write-up notes, “The 2020 Muni Art Project theme, ‘Hidden Gems of San Francisco’ is the fifth year that the The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), San Francisco Beautiful and The Poetry Society of America (sponsors of Poetry in Motion®) have collaborated to bring art and poetry to Muni commuters.”

As it turns out, one of the “hidden gems of San Francisco” is actually in Colma, the city of cemeteries just to the south. The art program involves ad-sized cards mounted in 100 Muni buses (we have asked that they be put in the historic streetcars as well). Each card includes a poem, which is illustrated by an artist reacting to the poetry.

One of the art cards is a collaboration between poet Tess Taylor and artist Vanessa Farjado, and involves time travel, both forward and back.

TRAIN THROUGH COLMA

But will anyone teach
the new intelligence to miss the apricot trees
that bloomed each spring along these tracks?
Or the way afternoons
blazed with creosote & ponderosa? Spring evenings flare
with orange pixels
in the bay-scented valley— where in the algorithm
will they account for
the rippling ponies
that roamed outside Fremont?
When the robots have souls, will they feel longing? When they feel longing,
will they write poems?

Tess Taylor (c) 2020, all rights reserved
Ex-Market Street Railway Car 950 at Molloy’s tavern on Old Mission Road, Colma, c.1948. Courtesy FoundSF

The poetry muses on the rise, and limitations, of Artificial Intelligence, seemingly in the context of today’s BART trains, which do run through Colma (note the reference to Fremont, among other examples). Yet the artist chose to illustrate it with a representation of the days of streetcar service through Colma. Specifically, it appears was inspired by the photograph above, of a 14-Mission streetcar running extended service to the cemeteries located along the old 40-San Mateo line. The venerable saloon Molloy’s, occupying a building constructed in 1883 and still there today (below), shares both the photograph and the art.

Of course, the poet could intend ‘Colma’ to be metaphorical, rather than geographical, an allusion to the death of poetry when ‘the robots’ take over. We’ll leave that to those more literary than we are, or perhaps muse further on the subject over an Irish Whiskey at Molloy’s, which we visited today.

Molloy’s now, 1655 Mission Road, Colma, from Google Maps

We love the way the Muni Art Program gives riders a chance to spend a little travel time being enriched by words and images. As new SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin noted at last week’s City Hall ceremony, “Art connects people. Transit connects people. This is a perfect combination.”

To which we would only add, “Especially when it also connects the past to the present to the future.”

Muni Art Bus at City Hall ceremony, January 9, 2020. SFMTA photo by Jeremy Menzies
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