A Subway Ride Wrapped in Art

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If you live in New York, you know the short ride from Grand Central Terminal to Times Square as “the shuttle,” the fastest way to get across town. And you know that advertisers are always trying to get your attention in a thousand different ways. Inside Grand Central, even the stair risers and the turnstiles are wrapped in ads. The Times Square station is almost as ad-packed as the flashy buildings outside. The next logical place to wow you is on or in the trains themselves.

A Subway train wrapped in Mark Alan Stamaty Cartoons

There have been a number of fully wrapped ‘S’ trains since the concept launched in 2008—for resorts, TV shows, fashion brands—but this one, for Sonos, makers of home sound systems, is something else. It’s a never-ending back page of a vintage issue of the Village Voice, a Mark Alan Stamaty cartoon from top to bottom, inside and out, covered with Stamaty’s signature black-and-white scenes of people bopping around town, many of them listening to music or making music. Posters inside the cars invite riders to “Listen at 101 Greene Street,” the Sonos retail store address in the SoHo arts and shopping district.

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Cartoons cover the outside. Cartoons cover the inside, even the ceilings and the seats. Hundreds, thousands, of butts sitting on Mark Alan Stamaty cartoons!

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“It’s a much bigger story than the subway cars,” I learned in a phone interview with the artist about how all this came about. “A year and a half ago I got a call from the branding agency Partners & Spade,” Stamaty said. “They’d been hired by Sonos, which was opening its first-ever retail outlet, to design the interior of the store, which was based on pods, soundproof listening booths shaped like little houses, 6 by 8 feet wide, with pointed roofs. Each pod would have a different interior. They called me because the creative director and agency co-founder, Anthony Sperduti, was a fan of my 1973 children’s book, Who Needs Donuts? which had been brought back into print for its 30th anniversary.”

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“To prepare, I spent a lot of time on the streets of SoHo, soaking in the music and street life,” Stamaty explained. “Crowd scenes are my specialty, and SoHo is always crowded with tourists and even some locals. Partners & Spade sent me section drawings and elevations of the pod walls and ceiling so I could design around features like the shelves on the wall. I did six drawings at 25% scale with Micron pens.” Here are three of them:

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“The agency did all the applications to the various media,” he said. “Besides the train cars, there are the store windows, shopping bags, an ad campaign that ran in ‘T,’ the New York Times fashion/interior design Sunday supplement magazine, and even billboards near Sonos headquarters in Boston. I loved seeing what they did. The folks at Partners & Spade are really good designers.”

Is this an example of how advertising really can be art? And, if so, how is it working? “We are major advocates of using the power of design to help solve business problems,” was the answer from Partners & Spade managing director Fernando Music. “The opening of the store was covered widely. The whole campaign is about transforming your home, how Sonos transforms your home with different music in different rooms, or the same music in every room. Each listening pod is a different home experience and decorated differently: light wood, dark wood, a color gradient, paintings that are interpretations of famous wallpaper patterns,” he said. “I’ve loved Mark’s work since the Village Voice of early ’70s, and must have read Who Needs Donuts? to my kids half a million times. So Mark was ideal to capture the vibe of SoHo as a place of music creation and culture.”

And from the point of view of the client? “What we have accomplished in NYC is remarkable,” said Whitney Walker, general manager of the Sonos store. “The work that we’re doing has not only created a direct benefit at our flagship store in SoHo, but it is benefiting all our retail partners as well.”

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