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Temporary Ramps Provide a Platform for Local Artists

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

San Francisco’s arts community has been hit particularly hard by the shelter-in-place guidelines that have been in place since March 2020.  Inspired by the challenges faced by the artists during the pandemic, SFMTA staff undertook an initiative to fund public art installations on two temporary wooden rail platforms installed last summer. For the project, a partnership between the SFMTA and local arts organization Paint the Void was formed with a mission to keep artists engaged and paid as a response to COVID-19. This effort was spearheaded by SFMTA project manager Liz Brisson, who oversaw the contracting and coordinated the necessary approval from the San Francisco Arts Commission.

In consultation with the local community, two artists were selected to create murals that would be an attractive addition to the streetscape. These works, by Simón Malvaez and Emily Fromm, now greet passengers and passers-by at the temporary platforms at West Portal Station and on the 200 block of Church Street.

“East West Portal”

Emily Fromm with her work "East West Portal"

Artist Emily Fromm with her work "East West Portal"

When asked about her mural at West Portal, artist Emily Fromm replied “from a young age I have been attracted to signs, text, bright lights, storefront displays and generally speaking, the way in which the world has been designed to communicate with those in it.” She wanted her piece “to capture the street which surrounds it; a quaint, picturesque little corner of the world that feels almost unchanged by time.  I wanted to highlight those businesses that have served the block in these times and those prior.”

As with many artists, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted Emily’s plans for 2020, including debut exhibitions in New York and London.  She was able to remain active during shelter–in-place with several commissions and is looking forward to developing a solo exhibition in San Francisco when the city re-opens.

 One reason this mural is so important to the artist is that the platform will serve the L Taraval, her favorite Muni line. Aside from memorable trips out to the zoo, Emily met her now-fiancé on the L Taraval “when we both got on at Montgomery Station on our way home from work and struck up a conversation on the ride home. I was carrying a bunch of plywood planks to paint, and once we realized that we were both getting off at the same stop at the end of the line and that we were neighbors, he helped me carry them home and asked me for my phone number. We still ride the L all the time and are grateful for all of the wonderful folks with the SFMTA who help us all get where we need to go.”

To learn more about how Emily’s platform will be put to use, visit the West Portal LK Transfer Project page.

“Them (Ramp)”

Simón Malvaez with his work "Them (Ramp)"

Simón Malvaez with his work "Them (Ramp)"

Castro resident Simón Malvaez, who painted the Church Street platform, draws his inspiration from the Queer and Latino communities. He said of his design, “I wanted to represent how we should celebrate unity in diversity and honor all the different people that have influenced me through my life.”

When asked about his experience during the pandemic, Simón replied, “I feel like art is one of the most important tools to show the reality that we live in right now, not only in our neighborhood but also in our city, our country, and the whole world. For me it’s very interesting to know about art history in San Francisco, and how through the years a lot of artists have moved out of the city—mostly because of the rent prices going high. I feel like being an artist in the Bay Area could be sometimes very hard and challenging and I think it is important to support local artists now more than ever.”

While unable to fulfill his plan to create his first major art piece at Burning Man 2020, Simón noted that “the pandemic made me slow down on my projects and focus on growing and learning more about my artistic style and the materials that I use. And it was not only the pandemic, but also the Black Lives Matter movement and the politics around immigration that are influencing what I want to show and represent in my art.” Now that his work is completed on the J Church platform, Simón is looking forward to the subway re-opening later this year when he can use the transfer point to connect to his other favorite lines, like the L Taraval at West Portal.

For information about how Simón’s platform is assisting Muni customers, visit the J Church Transfer Improvements page.