Art Helps Get The Buses Running On Time And Where They Are Needed

Last week Shelterforce had an article about places around the country that are using arts and culture strategies as part of transit planning processes. They provide examples of projects in beginning, middle and final stages in three communities around the country. However, these efforts are occurring in far more communities than that. The article mentioned an inaugural program of Transportation America which placed Arts, Culture and Transit Fellows in three additional communities.

These fellowships are”…designed to give art professionals opportunities for hands-on learning about the transportation planning and design process in their respective regions.’

At a nascent project in Northwest Arkansas, there is an effort to extend the hours and reach of transit lines. What the artists are contributing is collecting stories from

…constituencies whose feedback is often left out of planning discussions. Wilhite says those are the people they will pull in to participate in listening sessions and story circles “to get a conversation going about what’s proposed.”

Wilhite sees their role as artists and storytellers to be not just gatherers of information from a wider range of communities, but gatherers of stories that are more nuanced than what can be gleaned from an online survey. “We get the same answer but make it more complex, which is to [not only] say that people want transit, [but that] it needs to be here, and there.”


They are planning to facilitate citizen ride audits, in which residents of different backgrounds and transit needs—possibly students, seniors, the disabled—ride and record in various media their transit experience over a period of time. Another planned activity is the production of a theater piece that will be performed on bus lines.

…They will also work with a local arts center to create a temporary bus shelter—there are none in Springdale—in its parking lot. “Our goal is to increase ridership eventually, but [for now], get people excited, familiar, and even just aware [of the buses] maybe for the first time.”

Another project in Nashville helped address concerns about safety at a particularly dangerous intersection. In this case, feedback at community meetings was facilitated by hands on art projects. I am intrigued by the idea that modeling a pedestrian refuge out of clay and pipe cleaners might have directly contributed to the creation of a pedestrian refuge in the street improvement project.

Attendees used Play-Doh and pipe cleaners to create what they wanted to see in the area, be it transportation systems or parks, and on sticky notes they wrote how Nolensville Pike made them feel. The ideas specifically relating to pedestrian safety included adding more crosswalks, pedestrian refuge islands, and separate bike lanes along the corridor.

“Art definitely helped take down that barrier that people have when they don’t know what to say in a public meeting,” Carpenter says. “It helps stimulate people’s thinking about any issue [so they can] participate more in the conversation.”


The resident and business feedback resulted in change. ENCP was able to secure $1 million from the city budget to make positive changes along Nolensville Pike that included adding a traffic signal, crosswalk, and a permanent pedestrian refuge island in front of Azafrán Park,…


“I can guarantee that these specific projects … would not have happened were it not for us demonstrating the feedback that we got from people,” Carpenter says. “To have people testifying that they want these kinds of improvements on the Nolensville Pike [was important].”

The third project the article covered is one I have mentioned before, and one of my favorite stories, the use of cultural experiences to mitigate the impact of the construction of the Green Line light rail in St. Paul, MN on area businesses. In short, Springboard for the Arts trained a number of arts groups who went out and did everything from visual art projects to performances in Vietnamese restaurants, all of which helped draw people into area businesses despite the construction.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “Art Helps Get The Buses Running On Time And Where They Are Needed”

  1. I wouldn’t have ever considered art and transportation to be so intertwined, but I really enjoyed this article for bringing the two concepts together. Artists, professionals, and enthusiasts are always eager to learn, so giving them insight into a topic like buses is definitely a unique path. Perhaps we’ll see more art projects use transit as a means of inspiration.


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