By Dale Weigandt
As classroom sizes get larger, school budgets shrink, and subjects like drama, music, and art seem to be activities of the past, what is a budding 7-year-old artist to do? These were questions and concerns I had back in the early 1980s when my daughter was small and art classes were diminishing.
Back then, my family and I visited the “Bookmobile.” It was a simple concept: Fill an old bus with books, travel from neighborhood to neighborhood, and give kids the opportunity to read. It was a great idea and one of my daughter’s favorite activities. That idea prompted me to ask, “Why couldn’t River Road Park & Recreation District use that same concept and apply it to art?” Take a bus and paint it with bright colors, retrofit it with tables and a sink, drive it from neighborhood to neighborhood, and allow children the opportunity to create, imagine, and enjoy art.
For years I pitched the concept, and everyone had the same reaction: “That’s interesting, but how would you do that? Who would paint the bus? Who would do the work to retrofit it? Who would maintain it? What would we do with the bus? Do you really think kids would like it?”
So, for the better part of 30 years, the concept was no more than that.
In summer 2015, I met Hilary Darland, who, with her husband John, owns Imagination International Incorporated. Their company had recently partnered with us for another project in which they were kind enough to sponsor a mural for a summer-camp program using the talents of one of their artists, Bayne Gardner. It was during that time I let Hilary in on my dream to create an art bus. Her response was overwhelmingly positive! She said that if I ever obtained a bus, I should give her a call and she would help make my dream a reality. Feeling inspired, I called the local transit company, Lane Transit District, to see about donating a bus. I had called many times in the past but with no luck, but this time I received an almost immediate response. The district was decommissioning a bus and was willing to donate it to the park district. I couldn’t believe my luck! We were finally getting a bus! The planets were beginning to align, and my dream was alive.
My next call was to Imagination International, and without hesitation, Hillary said, “Bring it over and let’s get started!” The company’s artist painted the mural on the bus while Matt—the design whiz—changed over the interior. The bus was then delivered to the park district where the maintenance team put in lighting and completed all of the touches to make “Artie” come alive!
For the grand opening we invited all of the local schools to a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a tour of “Artie.” We also gathered input from the students for their ideas on how best to utilize “Artie” and serve the community.
We are now in the process of determining what the future holds. One thing is certain: “Artie” will make his rounds so kids will have time to create, envision, and enjoy art on many levels. I hope “Artie” will serve the community in the same way as the beloved Bookmobile, and bring joy and inspiration to children today and well into the future.
Dale Weigandt is the Superintendent of the River Road Park and Recreation District in Eugene, Ore. Reach him at DaleW@rrpark.org.