Art By Bus Extols The Virtues of Public Transit

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Lucy Hazlegrove with her work, " Springwood Farm."
Lucy Hazlegrove with her work, ” Springwood Farm.”

The 4th annual Art By Bus initiative from Ride Solutions includes free live music on the Star Line Trolley, art from Roanoke City’s private collection adorning the outside of four Valley Metro buses and the latest Writer By Bus, who will ride the public transit system over the next month or so and then write about that experience.

The latest Writer by Bus isn’t a poet or essayist, as the first three winners of that competition were, but a journalist. Tim Thornton is a former Roanoke Times reporter and the former editor of the now-defunct Roanoke Business magazine.  His selection was unveiled during an event at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.  “I’m just going to go on the bus and see what I see,” said Thornton, who is also currently teaching at Virginia Western Community College.

“That’s what journalists do, you go and see what you see and then report on that.” It will include essays, some audio and maybe videos, of the people that ride Valley Metro buses and the places they take public transit to on a regular basis – to their jobs, to shop, to their homes. “See who is out there,” says Thornton; “journalism is basically stories about people and how things affect them and the places they love. It’s a community I haven’t written about before. The people that ride the bus are the people that live in the city and in the Roanoke Valley.”

Previous Writers by Bus have had their thoughts collected and released in a short printed volume at the end of their residency. “It’s always good when you can find out about your neighbors and that’s what I’m aiming for – just tell folks about other folks.” Ride Solutions director Jeremy Holmes says the goal of the program has always been to put the spotlight on public transportation and the role it plays in the valley, using various forms of art. “To get people thinking about what public transportation does, a little bit differently.”

The free music during March on the free Star Line Trolley includes four regular bands and guest appearances from other artists slated to appear at the 5 Points Music Sanctuary and Jefferson Center. Nora Jane Struthers, who performed at 5 Points during the first weekend in March, kicked things off. “We’re really excited to work … with folks who want to perform in different venues, maybe show off the city to some of our visiting artists,” says Holmes. Student musicians from the Music Lab at Jefferson Center will also take part.

As for Thornton’s role: “we’re excited to see what that journalistic view will do from a storytelling perspective. We’re very open to letting our writers be inspired by what they see. We’ll probably see a little bit more material about why people use the bus – where are they going? What are the practical benefits in very day life? We hope to see what Tim will do with that.”

Part of the goal for Ride Solutions – an arm of the Roanoke-Alleghany Regional Commission – is to encourage a wider group of people to leave their cars home on occasion, to use public transportation, in part to help unclog roads and to reduce the carbon footprint. Valley Metro and its parent, the Greater Roanoke Transit Company, have been asked to extend or add bus routes and operate during hours where it doesn’t now. Increasing overall ridership is one key to making that happen – and Art By Bus is viewed as a promotional tool to help do just that.

More information on Art by Bus and the participating artists can be found at ridesolutions.org/artbybus.

Gene Maranno