It took a bus-stop wait for Jennifer Gibson and fellow artist Fred Zeleny to conceive Art in Transit.
Both are frequent Port Authority riders -- Zeleny, for instance, reverse-commutes from Squirrel Hill to an airport-area company -- and thus, he says, "We wait at a lot of bus stops."
The Art In Transit project -- Artbus for short -- hopes to "beautify the ride, for people who have to ride 30-45 minutes a day," Zeleny says. With the help of $10,000 from the Sprout Fund, the project will buy interior ad space from Port Authority at a discount and place ads-turned-art cards on 850 buses -- more than one-third of PAT's roughly 2,000-bus fleet.
Besides being bus riders and artists, Gibson, Zeleny and partner Matteo Orsini were concerned about what has become an annual funding crisis for the Port Authority, thanks to a Republican-dominated state legislature that sees highway spending as sound investment but transit funding as wasteful subsidy. The trio also did not like that bus riding has, among some, an unfairly grungy image.
Sprout, patron of 2003's successful "My other car is a Port Authority bus" bumper sticker campaign, was all ears for this project too, says Sprout co-founder Matt Hannigan.
"We can't solve the fiscal crisis of Port Authority, even if we gave them our maximum grant," Hannigan says. "So it's important to raise awareness, especially among the younger demographic, who're [interested in] mass transit possibly more than any other."
The Artbus crew currently has a "call to artists" with a Nov. 15 deadline, as well as a jury to pick the designs, which ought to tackle such themes as Pittsburgh neighborhoods, urban life and transit itself -- promoting transit even as transit literally carries the message of public art.
The art may make its debut in early 2006.
Says the Sprout Fund's Hannigan, "We wanted a little bit of a message ... so that when people go on a bus, they can see that people do care about these buses."
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