If you’re out and about in Alexandria, you might see the city’s Mobile Art Lab, a blue polka-dotted truck with a bright yellow design and violet lettering on the side. Diane Ruggiero, the director of the arts for the city, said the truck attracts attention from onlookers wherever it shows up.
“The truck has a very interesting look to it,” Ruggiero said. “It doesn’t look like a city truck. When people see it, they come over, ask us who we are and what we’re doing.”
Passersby are rewarded for their curiosity with an offer to engage in a project related to the arts — usually a quick activity (think less than 10 minutes) led by a local artist. It could be a gelatin monoprint project, perhaps, or a holiday ornament.
The studio on wheels was launched in September to bring the arts to Alexandria residents.
The traveling lab is Ruggiero’s brainchild, based on a similar project she started in her previous position promoting arts in Asheville, N.C. Her colleagues in Alexandria urged her to start one here.
After its launch, the truck began turning up at public events, such as the First Night Alexandria festival on New Year’s Eve and the King Street Arts Festival.
The vehicle also has impromptu lunchtime activities in different parts of the city and at public libraries.
Some of the lab’s most popular projects have involved silkscreen printing, making LED throwies (glow dots out of LED lights) and designing magnets. In addition to visual arts, Alexandria plans to use the truck to promote music, literature and more.
“We take the broadest definition of arts we possibly can — we hope to show films [and] more concerts as well in the spring and summer,” Ruggiero said. “I’m happy to add culinary arts as well!”
The truck ran a dance party with a disc jockey last fall, and it worked with projection artists to display a large-scale image on the back of the Torpedo Factory Art Center. This spring, Alexandria poet laureate Tori Lane will travel in the mobile lab, promoting poetry.
“It’s the opportunity to provide a creative encounter for folks in the community,” Ruggiero said. The lab’s programs are geared toward all ages, not just children. Projects are designed to be interesting enough for adults to participate in, but also accessible to young kids with supervision.
One of the challenges of the lab is to extend its reach to all city residents.
“We’re only 15 square miles, but lots of our cultural resources are based in Old Town,” Ruggiero said. “So for those people in West End, in Van Dorn or Landmark, we want to make sure they get access to the arts, as well.”
Those interested in the lab can track it at twitter.com/alexartlab.
Lanyi is a freelance writer.