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PR- 249-10
June 3, 2010


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Creative Time President and Artistic Director Anne Pasternak and Artist Paul Ramírez Jonas today launched Key to the City, a public art project starting this evening and lasting through June 27. Key to the City reinvents the civic honor of bestowing keys on heroes and dignitaries by offering New Yorkers and visitors from around the world the opportunity to present a key to each other that will unlock steel gates, padlocks, PO boxes, secret doors, secret compartments, and even new experiences at more than 20 sites across New York City’s five boroughs, including at the Brooklyn Museum, Freshkills Park and Gracie Mansion. Mayor Bloomberg made the announcement at a Times Square kiosk, where members of the public will be able to give the custom-made keys to one another by participating in a brief one-to-one ceremony. In addition, hundreds of people from NYC Civic Corps, the Mayor’s Office Community Affairs Unit and GrowNYC will distribute keys around the five boroughs.

Key to the City is an innovative public art project that encourages New Yorkers to recognize each other with the quintessential symbol of civic honor – a key to the city,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Every day, millions of New Yorkers and visitors from around the world interact with one another in every neighborhood – on subways, at coffee shops, in parks – and artist Paul Ramírez Jonas’ idea celebrates those interactions by helping bring a tradition typically reserved for special occasions to our everyday lives. The keys will unlock sites in all five boroughs and will provide New Yorkers and visitors alike a new way to experience some of our cultural organizations, city landmarks and small businesses.”

“The Key to the City allows everyday people the chance to honor one another, grants access to the City that is already theirs, and celebrates us all,” says Anne Pasternak, President and Artistic Director of Creative Time. “The tradition of the key to the city comes from the age of fortified cities, when a key could open the gates of a city like a home. This new version is a functional sculpture that opens urban spaces to the public and honors everyday citizens.”

Key to the City is to be awarded amongst ourselves” said Paul Ramírez Jonas. “We will give each other this key for reasons that exist outside of history. 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.”

A traditional key to the city is both an award and a symbol, typically given by the mayor to a local hero or for an extraordinary accomplishment. In Key to the City, Ramírez Jonas democratizes the ritual, empowering everyday citizens to honor each other. The bestowal ceremonies will take place in an open space that looks like a village lawn designed by the artist in the heart of New York’s busiest common space, Times Square. During the ceremony, participants formally declare the reasons for which they are recognizing each other, and will be given keys to exchange. Each testimony will be recorded in the project’s communal ledger – a living archive celebrating the citizens of, and visitors to, the city. Participants will also receive a map to sites that the Key to the City unlocks, such as secret public spaces, special opportunities within major landmarks, and small community spaces.

The Key to the City will unlock an array of gates, doors, secret compartments, and other things at institutions including:


  • Bronx County Courthouse (Mario Merola Bldg/County Court): the Quality Service Survey drop box.
  • The Point Community Development Corporation: a do-it-yourself artist studio and gallery in this community center.
  • PostNet: A PO box.
  • PS 73: a display case in the publicly accessible area of this elementary school.
  • Rincon Criollo Cultural Center: the gate to a vegetable patch in this community garden.


  • The Brooklyn Museum: a secret door on the fifth floor.
  • Cabinet Magazine: a box in the window grille of this cultural publication’s event space.
  • Coney Island Branch, Brooklyn Public Library: a box in the reference section that contains neighborhood relics.
  • Gleason’s Gym: A locker in this famous DUMBO gym.


  • Bryant Park: a switch to turn the light on or off at a park lamp post.
  • The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine: the Stuyvesant Family Baptismal Font.
  • The George Washington Bridge: a door on the pedestrian walkway.
  • Gracie Mansion: a closet door in the master bedroom. The ceremonial Key to the City will also be on view here . 
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A box with a limited number of free-admission buttons each day.
  • Trinity Church: the churchyard that contains Hamilton’s tomb.
  • Whitney Museum of American Art: a box at coat check with a preview of the museum’s future.


  • Eddie’s Sweet Shop: an extra serving of ice cream at this 100-year-old candy store.
  • The Louis Armstrong House Museum: a room in the house not normally on the public tour.
  • Office of New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm: a display case outside of the Council Member’s office.
  • Tortilleria Nixtamal: a nonpublic room in this restaurant in Jackson Heights.


  • Conference House Park: a pavilion at the southernmost point in New York State.
  • Freshkills Park: a box on the tour bus containing a pair of binoculars.
  • Joe Holzka Community Garden: a gazebo in the garden.
  • The Staten Island Buddhist Vihara: a garden maintained by the monks.

Born in California and raised in Honduras, Paul Ramírez Jonas currently lives, works, and teaches in New York City. In his practice, he challenges the boundaries between artwork and spectator by asking participants to contribute something – such as a penny, wish, or key – in order to fully engage with his projects. In Mi Casa Su Casa (2005), he delivered a series of lectures about how space can be defined as either locked or unlocked, before inviting the audience to exchange keys with him and one another. The same year, he created a permanent work of public art, a small park called Taylor Square, for Cambridge, Massachusetts. 5,000 keys to the park’s gate were mailed to the homes closest to the commons, symbolizing a shared sense of ownership. Finally, Ramírez Jonas’ project Talisman (2008) for the 28th São Paulo Biennial asked visitors to engage in a public agreement, leaving behind a copy of one of their own keys in exchange for a key to the front door of the iconic Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavillion that housed the   biennial.

Project support has been provided by Medeco Security Locks, DKNY, Draftfcb, NYC & Company, Times Square Alliance, National Endowment for the Arts, Lily Auchincloss Foundation and Bloomberg.

Key to the City continues Creative Time’s tradition of animating and amplifying unique spaces in New York City’s urban landscape. Recent projects include Tribute in Light, which served as a gesture of hope and healing after 9/11, and Doug Aitken: Sleepwalkers, a film projected on the Museum of Modern Art. Creative Time has worked with over 1,400 of the world’s most dynamic artists in its 35-year history. Creative Time: The Book was published on the occasion of the institution’s 33rd birthday, exploring each of its projects presented since 1974.


Stu Loeser / Andrew Brent   (212) 788-2958

Malia Simonds/Danai Pointer   (Cultural Affairs)
(212) 513-9322

Nicholas Weist, Creative Time   (212) 206 6674 ext.205

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