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Published: Thursday, 11/25/2004

Poetry in motion: TARTA project takes the arts to the streets

Four colorful TARTA buses wrapped from top to bottom with designs and poetry by area students are on the road, to be joined by another two next week.
Four colorful TARTA buses wrapped from top to bottom with designs and poetry by area students are on the road, to be joined by another two next week.

Buses and bridges and language and art: It's poetry in motion rolling through the streets of the area.

Four colorful TARTA buses wrapped from top to bottom with designs and poetry by area students are on the road, to be joined by another two next week.

In addition, a blue bus and a purple bus have been lumbering around town like creatures from a children's book since October.

"Art in TARTA" is a collaboration among the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and the University of Toledo. Its goal is to give artists a venue and to raise TARTA's profile.

"It's a good way to connect with the community and build partnerships," says Donna Aggazio, spokesman for the American Public Transportation Association. Artsy buses, as well as buses wrapped with advertising have been around for years, she said, adding that most transit systems budget some money for community projects.

Chances are, you won't be able to grab onto more than a few poetic fragments as the vehicles roll past, but that's OK, says Mary Dawson, design coordinator of the $70,000 project. Like music, the dolled-up buses aim to create impressions, she says.

The project began in fall, 2003, when Jason Binder, transit planner at TARTA, met with Marc Folk, artistic director at the arts commission. They discussed innovative ways to use the one percent of TARTA's federal funding required to be spent on community enhancements. In previous years, the earmarked funds have paid for projects including the colorful aluminum "Kabuki Dancer" sculpture in Levis Square on St. Clair Street and a mural of transportation in Toledo in the underground concourse between the Four SeaGate and One SeaGate buildings.

A bus wrap is installed in the TARTA garage. A bus wrap is installed in the TARTA garage.

It's particularly intriguing, Mr. Binder says, because the literary medium of poetry is blended into art.

The arts commission's Mr. Folk suggested involving the summer Young Artists at Work program. For six weeks, 55 high school students gathered in the Erie Street Market and were paid to learn about and create art. One hour a week, they focused on creative writing in sessions led by Larry Levy, a writing clinician. Using the theme of bridges, keyed to the under-construction I-280 Maumee River Crossing project, they wrote scores of poems. A panel of judges selected three poems for the bus wraps and another 19 that will be printed on posters displayed on bus exteriors and interiors.

Then, Ms. Dawson, owner of Dawson Design, Inc., in Maumee, got to work. She teaches graphic design at BGSU. Students Ben Morales, Lucas Hughart, and Stephen Fowler, agreed to create three designs for bus wraps, one for each poem. From their nine offerings, six were selected.

"This is the most important thing I've done with my artistic skills up to this point," said Mr. Morales, a BGSU junior from Lima. He spent more than 100 hours crafting his designs.

The students' designs were taken to Off Contact Productions, a Toledo graphics and screen-printing firm owned by brothers Jim and Allen Schall. A digital expert set up the printing machines with precise color and size codes. Giant sheets (101-by-48 inches) of clear contact paper were imprinted with the designs and cut to size. Run through another machine, the sheets were laminated.

Bus windows required separate sheets of different sizes, printed on perforated vinyl that has thousands of tiny holes; bus passengers can see out and people outside can view the picture.

From there, the rolls were delivered to the TARTA garage on West Central Avenue, where workers peeled away the backing and applied the sheets like wallpaper; cutting and tucking around lights and doors and wheel wells. The process takes about 22 labor hours per bus.

When the contact sheets are peeled off in three years or so, the underlying paint should be in the same condition it was when the bus was wrapped.

A public reception featuring all the buses and participants will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 12 in Parkwood Gallery, 1838 Parkwood Ave. The show will continue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday through Dec. 23.

Plans between TARTA and the arts commission call for a repeat next summer. The theme will be jazz, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Toledo-born pianist Art Tatum's death.

Contact Tahree Lane at:


or 419-724-6075.

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