When Arlington County started up its ART buses, Cynthia Connolly assumed there’d be art in the buses. The name actually just stood for Arlington Transit, but Connolly, Artisphere’s visual arts curator, couldn’t shake the idea of a rolling gallery.
So she got other county employees on board with her plan, and in December 2010, Art on the ART Bus debuted with painter Tim Kerr’s homage to his heroes — including Rosa Parks, who proved that what happens on a bus can change the world.
The three new installations per year that have taken rides on the designated bus ever since have had a more pedestrian goal: reminding passengers to look for the surprises around them.
“Just taking an ad placard and replacing it with art changes the bus,” says Connolly, who had the idea to put up bona fide original pieces, not mere prints. So riders experiencing the current show, a series of brightly colored panels from Amy Hughes Braden, can examine the 28-year-old Arlington artist’s pencil marks and the rough texture of her acrylic paint.
Not securing the work behind glass has drawbacks — some artists’ pieces have gone missing (“I guess you could consider that a compliment,” Connolly says). The presentation, however, plays with the notion that art is this precious thing meant to be stored in museums, rather than something that should fill our world.
Seeing a show requires bus fare and a bit of luck because the vehicle rotates routes daily. “It’s about sharing the experience with as many people as possible,” Connolly says.
That’s why Braden still hasn’t managed to catch her work yet, a few weeks into the exhibit. She wants to discover it the way riders do, by chance. “Now, I’m always looking when the bus comes by,” she says.
Braden will know she’s found her ride when she sees an electronic sign that’s alternately displaying a route number and “Art on the ART Bus.” Inside, the exhibit snakes around the interior in long, thin panels, which can be a challenge for the selected artists.
“I don’t usually make artwork in that proportion,” says Braden, who is the final artist being exhibited before the Art on the ART Bus budget is turned over to another project. Arlington County is hosting a contest for middle and high school students to design a bus wrap promoting the theme of “Share Our Streets — Be a PAL.” (That stands for predictable, alert and lawful.)
It’s still art, of course, but a wrap is something that rides by, and Connolly prefers the idea of immersing commuters in a gallery. So she’s hoping her project is just on hold.
So is Tony Hayes, 39, who happened to board the Art on the ART bus last week. He caught a glimpse of Braden’s panels and couldn’t stop staring.
“It makes the bus look more alive,” Hayes says. As a graffiti artist, he’d like the opportunity to paint his vision for the art space: “a gathering of people working together.”