The MBTA Is Embracing Boston Idea Week

There will be performers on the trains, and event panels at the Courthouse stop.

photo by meredith foley

photo by meredith foley

Last month, MassDOT Secretary Richard Davey said he was thinking about bringing musical acts onto MBTA train cars to perform for riders. This week, he will deliver that promise.

On Saturday, toward the tail end of Boston Idea Week, a five-day celebration of creative thinking that will feature panel discussions and exhibits challenging “the everyday normal,” passengers making use of the new late-night weekend train services will be greeted by performing artists as they travel between stops.

Called “Trax on the Tracks,” a selection of tunes will ring through the train cars on Saturday, June 14, from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., opening up the stage for local musicians and buskers that are usually bound to station platforms and stops. “They will actually be in the train cars,” said Kristin Phalen, one of Boston Idea Week’s organizers and planners. “They will start at Ashmont, Jackson Square, and Downtown Crossing stations.”

A full list of the artists participating in the series hasn’t been released.

The idea of bringing musical acts onto the transit lines stems from a conversation Davey had with art experts during an informal meeting at District Hall in the Seaport area in May. After inviting a select few people versed in the public arts sector to the roundtable meeting, Davey floated a list of potential projects that he hoped would make the MBTA not only a service that ships residents and riders between two destination points, but also a spot that they could enjoy, creating a vibrant, interesting place to be.

During Boston Idea Week, Davey will get to flex that artistic muscle when MassDOT and the MBTA unveil a series of transportation-related events that sprouted to life during his discussion with artists. “At MassDOT and the MBTA, we are wholly rethinking how we deliver transportation services to the people of Massachusetts,” said Davey in a statement. “Transportation isn’t just about moving goods and people—it’s about creating environments that foster economic growth and opportunity, provide residents with a lifeline to critical services, and improve the quality of life for all those who call Massachusetts home. Idea Week gives us a platform to showcase the many ways in which we are changing the face of public transportation.”

Besides the musical performances on T cars, the Courthouse Station will be transformed into an “Idea Lab” for a majority of the week, where panels of experts will use the space to bring the community together and discuss shifts in city policy, transportation, tech, and arts and culture.

At South Station, the MBTA will also have a stationary bus that’s been revamped and turned into a living room—complete with a couch and other household items— which Idea Week attendees can board and relax in. “We wanted to try and transform an MBTA car into a living room so people would get onto it and be surprised, but there were some issues with the furniture sliding around,” said Phelan. “So we took a bus instead, which will be outside South Station.”

A series of “Idea Walls,” blank spaces where transit users can write down their thoughts about questions posed by local think tanks and organizations, will also be plastered at stations throughout the system for the duration of the week.

Finally, the T and Mayor Marty Walsh are scheduled to ride the Red Line together and greet passengers. “[Davey’s] discussion and the timing of it worked well with Idea Week, and this became a platform to implement the things that happened in that discussion. I’m very impressed that they said they wanted to do unique and interesting things like this, and that they are actually trying them out,” Phelan said.

To see the entire Boston Idea Week schedule of events, visit their website here.