In spaces often used to peddle products and services, Metro Transit is now advertising hope and happiness.

The transit agency commissioned five local artists to create colorful and lively images that convey positive messages to counteract the heavy mood left behind by last summer's civil unrest and continuing effects of the raging coronavirus.

"Let's be happy," said Timi Bliss, a Minneapolis picture book author and illustrator of stories featuring Black characters. "Let's have joy."

Bliss, whose books include "In Search of the Gingerbread Man" and "In Search of the Sandman," created two designs. The first features intergenerational members of a neighborhood standing socially distanced outside a building, each holding a sign to spell the word "Community."

Her second features a girl holding a dog while leaning out of a car window flashing a peace sign. The background features rays of color and the words "Community" and "Resilience." The image is on display in a bus shelter at 22nd Street and Hennepin Avenue.

"I hope people are not looking at their phones," Bliss said. "I hope they are taking a good look at the image and asking themselves, 'When was the last time I flashed a peace sign?' "

Over the next couple weeks, Metro Transit will place the artists' images inside 15 bus shelters and on the exterior of 30 buses that will travel through south Minneapolis and the east metro. Images also will be featured in ad space inside many Metro Transit buses, said Mark Granlund, the agency's public art administrator.

The idea for the art project came up last summer after the death of George Floyd, and as a way to help struggling artists hurt by COVID-19. A panel selected five finalists and paid them $500 to create an image.

Jordan Roots, who did a couple of murals for the Uptown Association after Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, said his piece — featuring six rows of silhouettes representing all races and ages wearing masks — is meant to inspire unity, evoke emotions that arise due to the pandemic and "show togetherness."

"Art can help the soul with damage control," he said. "I want people to be drawn into it and come up with what you see in it."

Melodee Strong pays tribute to front-line workers in a mural featuring a nurse, firefighter, transit operator, child-care provider, a person stocking shelves at a grocery store and a man making a delivery, all surrounded by a quilt. Chris Harrison's creation features flowers, doves and outstretched hands with the words "Come Together Right Now."

Marlena Myles' handiwork shows bubbles with the words "hope," "respect," "love," "solidarity" and "support" floating through the air with the city skyline in the background.

Metro Transit has a large art collection, Granlund said, and has incorporated artwork into large construction projects, including stations along the Blue and Green light-rail lines. But this may be the first time the transit agency has launched a community art project in response to public events, he said.

Images will be displayed for the next four months, Granlund said.

"They are great, colorful and attractive, and on point with the message of hope," he said. "We want people to be given a sense that we are all in this together. It is a hard time. Visually we want to make the transit experience a little better and help people understand what they are experiencing."

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