Key to the City

Paul Ramírez Jonas

Creative Time Summit

What if a government ceremony, like the bestowal of the key to the city, suddenly became a civic artwork? And rather than a formality between Mayor and visiting dignitary, you personally could award this key to anyone of your choosing. The Key to the City, by artist Paul Ramírez Jonas, invited New Yorkers and visitors to our City to recognize each other with a key that lead them on a citywide scavenger hunt of backdoors, front gates, community gardens, and cemeteries, and more. This Key to the City gave us an opportunity to reflect on common space and made us aware that the city consists of a series of spaces that are locked or unlocked.

Summer 2010, Creative Time was pleased to present Key to the City in cooperation with The City of New York. This project by artist Paul Ramírez Jonas reinvents the civic honor of bestowing keys on luminaries as a master key able to unlock more than 20 sites across New York City's five boroughs—such as locks within the Brooklyn Museum and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Members of the public awarded thousands of these custom-made keys to each other in one-to-one ceremonies. The keys were distributed from a kiosk in Times Square, open daily from June 3 to 27. “Key to the City was an innovative public art project that encouraged 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 with a new way to experience some of our cultural organizations, city landmarks and small businesses.”

“With Key to the City, Paul Ramírez Jonas demonstrated, on a civic level, the urban delimitation between private and public. In essence, this simple exchange of a key allows one to gain access to a poetic collage extended across New York City,” says Nato Thompson, Chief Curator of Creative Time.