I received my own “Key to the City,” this week, as part of an art project created by Brooklyn’s Paul Ramírez Jonas. It truly is a key to the city which unlocks places, events and items throughout the five boroughs.
With this key, I’ll be able to unlock secret boxes, walk on paths rarely walked on and do things that most people aren’t privy to.
I find this type of art fascinating and unique. I think it is very clever that Paul Ramirez Jonas made 25,000 custom keys that will open up portals all over this city. So, even if you are a local, you will get to explore your own city in a way like none other. So far, around 10,000 keys have been given away and there is a little more than a week left for you to get your key.
I had a chance to chat with Paul and get his thoughts before I received my key. He said that he got the idea for the project while thinking about the difference between city monuments and more intimate art, such as a painting. There are very few monuments that people connect with, whereas with a painting, the viewer easily makes an emotional connection to the art. How often does someone exude emotion as they pass a public sculpture on the street? Or, in his words, “How do you make something public into something personal?” This is the problem he is trying to solve with his “Key to the City” project, which makes public monuments more intimate and accessible to everyday citizens, and allows people to become active participants in ways they couldn’t before.
This is Paul’s fourth project with special keys; his last project involved a museum that allowed people to come in after hours, which I think is brilliant! This time, he teamed up with a group called Creative Time, which works with artists to conceptualize their art on a larger scale. They worked together since the Fall to plan everything out and worked with organizations all over the city to negotiate and change locks for a few months this summer.
How it works: Go to Times Square.
The kiosk is on Broadway between 43rd and 44th Street. You must bring a friend or make a friend on the street and one of you must bestow the key onto the other.
While in line, you fill out a “passport,” with your name and the person you are bestowing the key onto; you also fill out your reason why you want to give the key to your friend. I saw things like “I love my friend dearly and love her blog,” “In consideration of being such a good mom,” or “Because my friend saved me from feral basement cats.”
When you get to the kiosk, you receive a key and then wait in a shorter, second line, to begin the “bestowing ceremony.”
The ceremony begins by writing what you wrote in your passport in a huge book. Each of you stands on the opposite sides of the table.
You read what you wrote and ask, “Do you accept this key to the city?” When your friend accepts it, you award the key and passport booklet to your friend. Now, you are ready to explore the unexplored!
The keys are available through June 27th (Open M–F 2PM–8PM; Sat–Sun 12PM–8PM) and you can unlock things throughout the five boroughs through the beginning of September. There are 24 different sites in the entire city.
My key: I am sharing my key with a friend, so as I journey along, I’ll let you know what secret doors I open up! I’m particularly excited about opening a room not open to the public in the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens and unlocking the mysterious box in the coat check at the Whitney Museum of American Art!