The road to enlightenment

Experience professional works of art at Bucks County Community College’s traveling museum, Artmobile.

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

The gloomy morning didn’t matter at Bucks County Community College. The massive and brightly decorated trailer on campus was enough to brighten things up. Artmobile, the college’s traveling outreach museum, was proudly on display by the Hicks Art Center Gallery, and was free and open to members of the public who wished to experience the interactive exhibition “Structures & Stories: Contemporary Book Arts.”

Full steam ahead: Artmobile is Bucks County Community College’s traveling outreach museum. The project kicked off in 1976 and has been going strong ever since. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

This museum on wheels isn’t something new. The project kicked off in 1976 in a 40-foot trailer. The idea quickly caught on, and has been ongoing since. Artmobile has expanded into a 48-foot semi-trailer, and is in the process of fundraising for a new one.

The sole purpose of Artmobile is to travel to public spaces and schools across the county, with a focus on kindergarten through high school. A professional educator is always on board to run the class visits. The educator teaches students about art, and also connects the experience to other subject areas, including language and humanities. There is no set time that Artmobile stays in one place, and it’s been known to do week-long visits at some schools.

“We will stay as long as it takes,” said Fran Orlando, director of Artmobile and Hicks Art Center Gallery.

The lessons are broken into 45-minute to one-hour sessions over the span of multiple days. There are even hands-on displays marked by tiny green hand stickers that allow younger students to know what they are allowed to touch.

“It’s learning through playing,” Orlando said. “Everybody likes to play.”

Schools can request an Artmobile visit, and officials are in the process of booking the itinerary for next year, which is almost full. According to Orlando, they will also visit schools that don’t have the means to pay for it, since Bucks County Community College has some funding dedicated to instances such as these. It’s usually the students at these schools who appreciate it the most since they’ve never had any prior museum experience. Some even hug the educators at the end.

After the visit, Artmobile provides the teachers with a curriculum so they can extend the experience to post-visit lesson plans. The educator will also provide in-service training at the schools to help teachers incorporate the arts into their own curriculum.

When Artmobile started in the 1970s, each exhibit lasted only three months. As popularity grew and it attracted more visitors, the exhibits were extended to two years. For some professional artists, this is a long time to have their pieces on loan. It’s a huge commitment, but according to Orlando, more than 40,000 people will view their work over the span of the two years.

Nearing the end of its run is the “Structures & Stories: Contemporary Book Arts” exhibit, which portrays how the structure of a book supports the story. One of the first displays visitors can view upon walking into Artmobile is by British artist Paul Johnson, who specializes in pop-up books and putting a fun twist on traditional fairy tales. In his version of Sleeping Beauty, she runs away from the prince and sets off to see the world instead of getting married.

Hitting the streets: The Artmobile is currently housing an exhibition Structures & Stories: Contemporary Book Arts. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

A special portion of Artmobile is dedicated to “zines,” which visitors can touch and read. Zines cover everything from food to popular culture, and are confined to one sheet of paper folded into smaller squares. Students have the opportunity to make their own zines, which are proudly displayed across from the professionally made ones.

During the summer, Orlando and the staff of Artmobile will be prepping for the next exhibit entitled “Planting Seeds: Arts and Science of Pollination,” which is set to go on the road toward the end of September. The displays will be by artists concerned about the environment who want to use their art to support science.

Artmobile is celebrating 40 years of bringing the arts to Bucks County schools and communities, and Orlando has been involved for 30 of them. Though she doesn’t get to go on the road as much as she’d like with responsibilities at Hicks, she loves being part of something that allows her to share the excitement of art with both adults and children.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” she said. ••