Paul Ramirez Jonas’s “Key to the City”: Heterotopia

By Lara

It seems as though the nature of heterotopias is often either accidental or established with some sort of permanency in mind- but the idea of heterotopias as something temporary and constructed seemed to me somewhat outside the realm of the norm. I came across this public art project by Paul Ramirez Jones which took place in 2010, called ” Key to the City”. By distributing keys in times Square, the public was awarded access to various cites across the city, not normally open to the public. Keys were to unlock doors or boxes at each of the following sites:

The Point
The Rincon Criollo Cultural Center
PS 73
Bronx County Court House
Louis Armstrong House Museum
Eddie’s Sweet Shop
Staten Island Buddhist Vihara
Conference House Park

The rules of distribution were noted as follows:

Key to the City is a public art project that is free and open to everyone. To participate and get a key, simply visit the Key to the City kiosk in Times Square, on Broadway, between 43rd and 44th Streets. We encourage you to bring someone with you as you will not only receive a key, but also bestow a key through a special ceremony. If you come alone, you can still participate—or, you might even meet someone in line who you want to award the key. As you wait in line, you will receive a guidebook with information about each site the key opens and Creative Time volunteers will explain how the key bestowal ceremony works. Part of preparing for the key bestowal ceremony involves filling out a template script, which you will read aloud during your ceremony.

This is an example of a project in which as heterotopia was created to create a network of space around New York City for people to commonly engage in as a shared experience and as an experience outside of the liminal constraints and contexts in which these spaces normally exist.

Here are a couple links to portraits of some participants, as well as an expose on the space at participating site- the Cabinet Magazine office.


1 Comment»

  jennykane324 wrote @

This is a bit like Open House NY weekend but in a more intimate way.
OHNY is a great opportunity to see places in NYC that are rarely open to the public, places like the Highbridge Water tower, un-restored areas of Ellis Island, the Atlantic Tunnel that Ran mentioned, libraries, offices, gardens and religious sites. It gives people a chance to experience a place or work site that is outside their routines or a glimpse into the city’s history.


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