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‘Key to the City’ Kiosk
You no longer have be someone important to get a key to the city, at least not this summer. The New York artist Paul Ramírez Jonas likes engaging the public in his interventions. Together with Creative Time, a nonprofit organization that presents art around the city, and the office of the mayor, he has come up with “Key to the City.”
From June 3 to June 27, a kiosk in Times Square will give out 35,000 free keys that recipients can then bestow on friends and family. The keys will unlock a host of mysterious events including small exhibitions or provide access to little-known, otherwise off-limits spaces in New York. It is a scavenger hunt involving 20 sites in all five boroughs, like a boxing gym in Brooklyn, a community garden in Staten Island and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.
The keys will unlock steel gates and padlocks, security booths and secret doors, and what will be hidden behind them is yet to be revealed. Each participant will receive a map to the sites.
This isn’t the first time Mr. Ramírez Jonas has used keys in his work. Five years ago he distributed 1,000 that opened the gates to a tiny park in Cambridge, Mass. He also mailed 5,000 artist-designed keys to Cambridge households, stamped with phrases like “Copy Me,” encouraging people to make duplicates to increase access to the park. And in 2008 as part of the São Paulo Biennale, Mr. Ramírez Jonas arranged for members of the public to receive keys to the front door of the exhibition’s pavilion. Each recipient was required to leave behind a copy of one of their own keys.
The New York project was like “creating a portrait of the city,” Mr. Ramírez Jonas said in a telephone interview. To pick the sites, he explained, he sat down with a map and made a list of different kinds of experiences that make up a city. “It was like being an urban planner,” he added.
Nato Thompson, chief curator of Creative Time, said the custom-made keys themselves were little sculptures. “I don’t think people will ever get rid of them,” he said.