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updated 6/3/2010 4:44:54 PM ET 2010-06-03T20:44:54

A new public art project plays up the time-honored practice of recognizing dignitaries with a key to the city, with the artist creating a master key that unlocks hidden museum rooms, private gardens and more.

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The public can pick up the keys from a Times Square kiosk until June 27. The project runs through Labor Day.

Artist Paul Ramirez Jonas, who created "The Key to the City" in collaboration with the nonprofit group Creative Time, encourages people to give keys to others in honor of a certain deed or trait.

"One to one, one at a time, thousands of keys will be bestowed by thousands of people for private reasons that deserve to be recognized," Jonas said.

The keys open, among other places, a concealed door to an exhibition of Faberge jewels at the Brooklyn Museum and a private vegetable plot at a community garden in the Bronx, spokesman Nicholas Weist said Thursday.

At Eddie's Sweet Shop, a 100-year-old confectionary in Queens, the key unlocks a box that contains a coupon offering an extra scoop of ice cream.

At the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, key holders can open the padlocked chain on the entrance grill to The Baptistry, a gift from the descendants of Peter Stuyvesant, the last governor of New Amsterdam, now New York City.

Image: Keys to the city
Paul Ramirez Jonas  /  AP
The gate to the baptistry at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.

Another key opens a second-floor closet in the master bedroom of Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York City's mayor. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who helped announce the project on Thursday, probably won't mind. He actually lives at a Manhattan town house.

The project "will provide New Yorkers with a new way to experience some of our cultural organizations, city landmarks and small businesses," the mayor said in a statement.

There are about two dozen sites throughout the five boroughs, which must be visited during opening hours.

Each master key can open all the locks. The initial production run is for 25,000 keys, but more will be created if needed to match demand, Weist said.

Jonas, who lives in New York, has created other projects using a key, including a permanent public artwork in Cambridge, Mass., in which 5,000 keys to a park's gate were sent to surrounding residents to symbolize a shared sense of ownership.

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