The next big piece of art to be featured in Covington won't be found in any gallery -- it's something that takes people to the galleries. Dubbed the "Magic Bus," this old, out-of-service TANK bus has been given a new look and a new life -- reincarnated as a Covington shuttle service on the weekends. More than that, though, it has also become a collaborative art project, representing the work of many local artists.
David Rice, one of the artists who helped paint the bus, explains its mission: "The idea is to provide transportation for people during the art walks and around the galleries and restaurants and bars, and to make it easier for people to get around."
"Some of the distances between the galleries ... might be a longer distance than some people might care to walk," says Kathie Hickey, manager of Renaissance Covington, the nonprofit organization that came up with the idea for the shuttle. "We thought that if we had a cool transportation system in place to get people from gallery to gallery, this would be something that would support the artists. So it was originally created for the gallery hops, and then once we started thinking about it ..
The bus is more than a purely functional project, however. As with any artwork, much of the fun is in creating it. Michael Burns, a Covington muralist who serves as lead designer for the project, says, "There are 10 to 15 artists on any given day, depending on what part of the process we're in. The group decides when we work and how we work, and all those artists working together as one drive the art. It's a group effort. There are photographers, there are writers, there are painters ... An orchestrator of those media is how I (refer to) myself."
Jackie Slone, a ceramic artist who has also been helping to paint the bus, says that working with other artists in the area has been the highlight of the project for her. "Painting isn't my specialty," she says. "It's just been fun to be involved ... I think when you're an artist, you're in your studio a lot and you don't get out a lot, and so it's fun to do some collaborative projects. This one is to benefit the arts district and the gallery hop, so I like to be involved in that ... I really didn't know there were that many artists in Covington until we started having these meetings, so it's kind of neat to meet the other people."
Beyond being a resource for the Covington community, the Magic Bus has also helped bring people in the community together. All of the artwork has been on a volunteer basis, with graphic-art supplies donated by GCI Digital Imaging, the bus itself donated by TANK and services donated by Burns' business Mural Pop. Apropos of this community-driven work, the bus itself will reflect its home.
Rice describes the theme of the design: "We were trying to highlight some of Covington's unique architecture and the life of Covington, people out eating, drinking, having conversation. So one side of the bus is that -- people out. It's kind of a surreal Covington scene, where somebody might be talking to somebody and then their hand's in another picture. And the other side is the architecture, the cityscapes with buildings in Covington."
Burns says, "It's best to let the work speak for itself. It's got so much character and colorful life to it that it'll be unmissable. There's a combination of hand illustration, hand painting, digital photography ... it's a combination of people and places and things of Covington. What's inspiring me (are) the people working with this project that I get to meet and the gifted talent I get to work with.
Hickey, who helped come up with the idea for the bus (as well as its name, inspired by the song Magic Bus by The Who), says the bus will launch on June 1, and that the first ride will be in honor of the artists.
"We're having the Maiden Voyage on the first Friday gallery hop," she says. "The first passengers will be the artists ... then the bus will start running its normal route."
The bus, which is largely funded by interior advertisements, will cost the city $50 an hour to run, but will only cost a passenger $1 to ride all night.
Rice says, "It's going to be nice, especially with the price of gas."
Slone is enthusiastic about the project's potential.
"I want (Covington) to be an arts destination for people," she says, "and I think the Magic Bus will help because it can be used for lots of things besides the gallery hop in promoting awareness of the arts in Covington."
Burns adds, "I look at Covington as a plethora of opportunity. It's such a growing place, it's very inviting to the artist."
THE MAGIC BUS will celebrate its birthday at The Avenue with birthday cake and a christening from 5-6 p.m. Friday at 411 Madison Ave., Covington. The bus will run from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays on route along the riverfront, down MainStrasse and Pike Street and through downtown Covington.