For kids living in rural areas, an art program only miles away may still be too far. Even shorter drives can be time consuming — assuming there’s transportation — and news of the event doesn’t always reach beyond urban boundaries. When it does, it’s never a given the money for fees will be there.
The Oregon Coast Council for the Arts is hoping a repurposed school bus will help overcome those challenges. The council launched the summer tour of the Oregon Coast Art Bus last weekend in Newport, with programs scheduled through Sept 4.
“I am very excited,” said Sara Siggelkow, the council’s arts education manager. “I think this is an opportunity we haven’t had before.” Noting that in the past, one of the biggest struggles was getting kids to the Newport Visual Arts Center, Siggelkow added, “this turns that around and allows us to go to the kids.”
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Funding for the bus came from a $40 million grant from the Legislature, administered through the Oregon Community Foundation. The goal is to support after-school programs, particularly in poorer communities, to address the education gap resulting from Covid-19.
The Art Bus brings Oregon Coast Council for the Arts programs deeper into the community in Lincoln County, Executive Director Jason Holland said in a press release. “It helps us remove some of the barriers to arts participation and creates more equity and access, which is critically important right now. Over time, we plan to build partnerships with community organizations across Lincoln County and beyond, to bring our high-quality arts programs right to their doorstep.”
“It is something we thought about for a while,” said Tom Webb, director of the Visual Arts Center. “This particular grant seemed to make a lot of sense, because it’s sort of a special opportunity. We hope to meet our goal of reaching 800 students this summer … and to have the Art Bus going for quite some time.”
Projects in this first round will include mixed media and art projects with biology as the theme. The curriculum will be based on two texts developed for young learners, Ellie’s Strand and Ellie’s Log.
“They’ll have four stations and four projects while they are there in person,” said Siggelkow. “There will be latex leaves they can print, stencils for animal tracks, different feathers where they can draw in the colors to match actual birds, and rubbing plates to rub crayons over.”
Those pages, plus others for students to record information about the animals’ habitat, genus, and species, will go into a journal assembled at the last station for the students to take home.
“We’re going to give them blank pages so they can do different things,” said Siggelkow. “Even if they don’t love the scientific parts, kids have a place to do their art and write a special thing.”
The summer tour will focus on visual arts, but coming projects could include other mediums, and possibly classes for adults, she said.
Also on the drawing board are plans to make the bus more functional for the coastal climate.
“For the summer, we’re taking tables and stools to put outside the bus,” Siggelkow said. “But as you know, the Oregon Coast is not always conducive to those activities. So the goal is to build it out so we can go somewhere, pull in, and have the kids work on the bus in those climates and times that aren’t necessarily good for doing art outside.”
“My big Pollyanna dream is to go someplace like a housing complex that has a lot of working parents and where kids don’t have a lot of opportunities.” Siggelkow continued. “To go to those places and allow them to have the same things we typically do at the VAC. This summer, it’s Lincoln County, but we would like it to go farther eventually. OCCA does service the entire coast. Hopefully there are other organizations and people on the coast who can see a use for it.”
The arts council is working with community partners to set the tour schedule. Community organizations are encouraged to contact the council to discuss their interest in being part of the Art Bus tour, which will include stops in rural communities countywide.
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.