Changing the community, one bus stop at a time. The team who brought you NYC's Meeting Bowls transforms bus benches into sculpture.
Talk about form revealing function. Baltimore's bus system gets a brand new stop and meeting point in the form of three giant wood-and-steel letters: B-U-S. Courtesy of collab group mmmm... and Baltimore's new Transit - Creative Placemaking program, the project creates an opportunity for social dialogue and urban renewal through playful, letter-based art.
It is refreshing to see a familiar spot of "inevitable waiting" not transformed into a plastic mountain beer ad or used-gum repository, but rather a minimal and interesting art space. Undistracted by advertisements, fliers, or otherwise, the tripartite bus-stop sculpture becomes a "leisure space in the middle of the rhythm of the city." It is multifunctional, serving as a block to winter sleet, shade in the Chesapeake summer heat, and cover from autumn rains. Located in Highlandtown, a blue-collar neighborhood of Baltimore, the installation is a permanent tribute to the ability of art to rejuvenate the streetscape. It is also right next to project collaborator Creative Alliance, and follows Creative Alliance's mission to build community by bringing together diverse artists and audiences. But the letters are also well-mastered pieces of urban furniture. And these sculptures aren't just for kids; the S is specifically designed to allow reclining while waiting, and the B allows handicap-accessible shelter in inclement weather. More importantly, the installation allows for conversation, for an iconic point to meet people and interact as a community, following mmmm...'s success with their Meeting Bowls in New York's Times Square.
It's an intriguing structure for an urban environment, composed of individual wood planks screwed to a resistant steel frame, in the same manner as public benches. It's a reference to urban furniture, to government, mass-produced amenities while retaining a distinctly organic texture and form. The smooth visual curves are courtesy of the use of planks fit to the underlying structure, and there is a unity in the 14' x 7' size of each letter (it's a kind of tangible typography). This all creates an effect of juxtaposition and regeneration against the typical brick wall, cement sidewalk, and asphalt road.
Creative Placemaking is a community initiative that requires collaboration between public and private spheres - such as private art collectives along with national development agencies - strategically shaping an area around culture and arts. It's a way to transform communities through not only economic development but via bringing people together and inspiring dialogue by means of such installations as "Bus Stop." Spanish collaboration mmmm..., started by Emilio Alarcón, Alberto Alarcón, Ciro Márquez and Eva Salmerón in 1998 in Madrid, designs projects not only for public spaces, but for wider communities. While often playful in tone, mmmm... works towards change, towards positively shifting a culture. And this change is chimerical, taking on any number of faces: it could be through the wonder and curiosity of Scattered Orchestra, or the powerful, perspective-shifting Rape Map. Now it is up to this structure and others to come from Transit to help change the city and make a case for others about the transformative effect of art within a community.
Photography by mmmm...