Bringing art to youth via bus

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2014 - 4:29 PM

The nonprofit group Art ASAP is converting an old bus into a mobile studio that caters to kids in grades 4-8.

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A group of volunteers gathered at a St. Paul bus lot to begin rehabbing an old Metro Transit bus with Art ASAP. The volunteers worked together to remove seats and railings from the bus as well as other tasks. They’ll continue working on the bus through mid-May. Art ASAP plans to launch an art program on the bus in June.

Photo: Submitted photo,

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At an April 9 auction, Mary Carroll, Dominique Pierre-Toussaint and Tracie Nelson Stanton kept their eyes peeled for a bus “with good bones.”

“We didn’t care if the bus had a few bumps and bruises,” Carroll said.

They lucked out with an old Metro Transit bus that was used to carry people to and from the “dales,” like the Southdale shopping mall. It’s still in good shape, she said.

The trio is turning the bus into a solar-powered mobile art studio that will bring art to underserved youth all over the metro area. To make it happen, they’ve formed a nonprofit organization, Art ASAP, for which the acronym stands for After School Arts Programming, according to Carroll.

“Art ASAP” conveys a sense of urgency about exposing kids to art, she said. “Our goal is to bridge the gap in art education opportunities,” which can help students succeed in many other activities, as well, she said.

The group plans to launch an eight-week artmaking program on the bus called “The Bus Stops Here” in the Hopkins area next month. Soon the bus will be fitted with several types of workstations, with benches and easels and portfolio storage, she said.

Free classes will be geared for children in grades 4 to 8. “A lot of kids get in trouble around that time and they’re really creative. They crave self-expression,” she said.

Later on, the group plans to roll out the program in other parts of town. “The hope is that young people exposed to poverty, violence or addiction will find an outlet in creative and constructive ways through the art-making process,” Art ASAP materials state.

At the end of the course, young artists will have a professional portfolio; they’ll also exhibit their work, which “instills pride and it shows the importance of it to the community,” Carroll said.

Bridging the gap

Carroll came up with the idea for the art bus after she fell and tore a ligament in her arm in January. The injury slowed her down, giving her time to think about ways to use her talents in the community, she said.

Carroll, whose work has been featured at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, has frequently taught art classes for students of all ages. As such, she’s all too familiar with the cutbacks to arts education in recent years.

Too often, after-school art offerings can be cost-prohibitive or tough for some students to get to, she said. As she mulled over those issues, she dreamed up the art bus. “This is a new area for me, akin to arts activism,” she said.

Coincidentally, Carroll’s maiden name is “Buss.” “I grew up with bus jokes, and in fact, my grandfather emigrated from Holland in the 1930s and changed his surname from ‘Bus’ to ‘Buss,’ ” because he thought it seemed more American, she said.

A bus seemed like an ideal way “to take the studio to students where they live,” she said, adding, “It takes transportation out of the equation.”

Carroll decided to join forces with Pierre-Toussaint and Nelson Stanton of the Minnesota Youth Community (MNYC), which spearheaded an extracurricular art club earlier this school year in the Hopkins school district.

Pierre-Toussaint, who is also a student support specialist for Hopkins public schools, jumped at the opportunity in part because “art has meant everything to me,” he said.

As a high school student, a supervisor at a community center named Mr. Smalls took an interest in him and kept him busy with art assignments. It helped him to channel his emotions at a critical time. “I had my own wall,” to paint on, he said, adding, “It took me out of the streets.”

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