Image: Airport art
Stephan Savoia  /  AP
A woman walks through a Terminal A parking garage access corridor bathed in streams of red and yellow light at Logan International Airport in Boston. The colored light was generated by tinted window panes created by Christopher Janney as part of his interactive public art project at the airport.
updated 7/23/2007 2:00:31 PM ET 2007-07-23T18:00:31

A mesmerizing amoeba-like glass sculpture titled "Swell" that looks like an ocean wave. Colorful images of pelicans, crabs and other waterlife. Strands of light-reflecting glass suspended from a cable that creates a rainbow effect.

A visit to the art museum?

Nope — a stroll through the airport.

More and more airports around the nation are using art to boost tourism, polish the image of their host community and soothe passengers in what can be a stressful environment.

"You've got a captive audience," said Greg Mamary, producer of special projects for the American Association of Airport Executives. "It's just become a very trendy thing."

The Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina opened an art gallery June 1 featuring 47 paintings and sculptures from local artists, including the ocean-like "Swell." There already are plans to expand the gallery.

Dayton International Airport in Ohio will begin hanging paintings, displaying sculptures and possibly staging musical performances this fall.

The Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, damaged by Hurricane Katrina, will begin displaying art when renovations are completed in September. Pottery, paintings and wall-wrap art of pelicans and other local waterfowl are on tap.

"For us, it's huge because we lost so much identity and culture due to the hurricane," said Jeremiah Gerald, air service development manager of the Mississippi airport.

Smaller airports are jumping on a bandwagon that many larger airports have been riding for years.

About 300 pieces of art can be seen at Atlanta's airport, including a large display of stone sculptures from Zimbabwe. In the baggage area, giant lifelike ants appear to emerge from a hole in the ceiling and crawl over the ductwork — a metaphor for the anthill-like flurry of airport activity.

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In April, Boston's Logan International Airport unveiled "Rainbow Cove," a light-and-sound artwork with colored glass walls and sounds of nature, located in the airport's Central Garage.

The Phoenix airport boasts 500 pieces of art in 24 areas, a collection that has been steadily growing. The rental-car area boasts the strands-of-light-reflecting-glass artwork.

Lennee Eller, program manager of the Phoenix Airport Museum, said many airports are just launching art programs. She calls it the "artport" phenomenon.

"We're at the verge of really developing an industry. We've convinced the powers that be that we're cool," Eller said. "I have 42 million passengers a year. There is no other museum in Arizona that has that kind of audience."

Indianapolis' new airport, scheduled to open in 2008, will boast $3.9 million worth of art, a far cry from the few pieces of art in the existing airport.

The new airport will feature hand-blown glass murals etched with the poetry of local artists, an aviation-themed sculpture with more than 100 pieces of perforated metal and silver beaded chains, and bronzed vintage luggage that will serve as chairs and tables in the baggage area.

Ann Markusen, an economist at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute who studies the effect of art on the economy, said some communities fail to use their airports to promote themselves. Teeming pools of travelers of all ages and origins often have to spend considerable time at the airports, she said.

"And there is incredible wasted space at airports — wall space and other kinds of space," Markusen said.

Opening the gallery at the Asheville airport gives local artists a stage and provides a benefit to passengers as they wait for flights.

"It gives them something to do and exposes passengers who are coming or going to that western North Carolina culture," said airport spokeswoman Patti Michel.

Karen Kuhn, 60, of Fairfield, Ohio, likes art in airports because it enhances the sensation of traveling.

"The paintings and the sculptures are usually of local interest; that reinforces the destination feeling," she said. "Airports should do more of it."

Mamary said the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that led to tighter airport security, checkpoint lines and requirements that passengers arrive early for their flights helped spur additional interest in airport art to help create a calming environment.

"I often hear that they truly enjoy the relaxing benefits," Eller said. "It lessens stress."

Art can also pump additional life into an airport and even be a moneymaker.

Passengers picking up their bags at Port Columbus International Airport in Ohio now see a splashy montage of artistically arranged color photos showing off city attractions. Advertising messages will scroll among the photos.

Rob Evans, a marketing director at NCR Corp. in Dayton who flies 50 to 60 times a year, has seen art in numerous airports.

"If it's done well, it really does give you a nice sense of transition from place to place," he said. "It's a good idea so long as you don't get so interested in it that you miss a flight."

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