Reed Seifer, the graphic artist who devised the “optimism” project in art school, with a new-look MetroCard. (Photo: Yana Paskova for the New York Times)

“The Waterfalls” flowed in the East River. “The Gates” snaked through Central Park. Now New York’s latest large-scale public art project is being exhibited in an even unlikelier space: your wallet.

On the back of seven million MetroCards distributed this fall is a single printed word: “optimism.” Composed in clean, bold, sans-serif letters, it floats in a sea of white just beneath the boilerplate fine print. Another seven million are on the way early next year.

At first glance, the word appears simple and unassuming, a non sequitur easily overlooked amid the blur of travel in the city. Even its creators acknowledge that many subway and bus riders may never see it.

But as unemployment in the city reaches a 16-year high, as corporations close and deficits mount, optimism has become a scarce commodity, aboveground and below. New York, it seems, could use a chance to restock.

“God knows people want to feel good, they want to feel up, they want to feel positive,” said Christopher P. Boylan, who oversaw the project at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “If I can make a couple of customers smile a day, that’s nice.”


Michael M. Grynbaum
New York Times