Take a Ride with Student Artwork

Art on the Bus program bedecks city buses with kids' creations

Tom Giffey


The arrival of the last day of school wasn’t the only thing that had students at Lakeshore School in Eau Claire excited on June 7. The children were also eager to get onto a pair of Eau Claire Transit buses parked in front of the elementary school. This wasn’t the beginning of a field trip; instead, the students filed on and off the buses to check out the art inside – art they had created themselves that was displayed as part of the Art on the Bus program.

“I think at any point when the kids can have their art displayed publicly,
they are really proud.” – ERIN JANKELakeshore School art teacher

Dozens of colorful paintings, drawings, and collages were arranged above the windows on either side of each buses’ interior. As they filed down the aisles, the kids chattered and gestured excitedly at the pictures, pointing them out to classmates and visiting parents and grandparents, who proudly took snapshots of the artists posing with their creations.

Aubrie Bielefeld, an outgoing second-grader at the school, was among the dozens of featured artists. Her picture was a bold, highly-detailed drawing of a firefly zipping across a black background decorated with flecks of orange paper that represented other fireflies. She said she loves to make art.

What does she hope bus-riders get from her piece? “I hope they wonder who it was that did that, and I hope they feel happy about it,” Aubrie said.

It’s awesome,” her beaming mother, Angelea Bielfeld, said of the display. “It gives the kids a confidence boost.”

Art on the Bus is a product of the creative mind of Eau Claire visual artist and teacher Paula Gorski. Gorski taught in Bolivia and Colombia for a decade, and she said the buses in South America were much livelier than those in the United States – they were colorful and full of music. When she returned to Eau Claire, she decided to infuse some of this spirit into Eau Claire Transit’s fleet of buses. Over the past 13 years, Art on the Bus displays have included children’s artwork as well as poetry written by adults, photographs of gardens, and even hand-knit items. The children’s creations have been a constant element: This is the 11th year that art from Lakeshore students has been featured on city buses. In the past, other Eau Claire schools were part of the program as well.

The program is supported in part by sales from the school store at Lakeshore as well as the school’s parent-teacher organization. Funds go to photograph and reproduce the art as well as to pay a stipend to Gorski.

Currently, bus riders and art lovers alike will find art on eight city buses. Two of them (numbers 506 and 526), are now adorned with art from Lakeshore. Another (number 525) will be decorated with work created by students in a summer school class Gorski teachers in Altoona. The other five buses feature past work by children and adults.

Gorski said the Art on the Bus program is one element of a growing proliferation of public art in the Chippewa Valley. “When I teach, I say ‘you’re part of a movement,’ ” she said.

Lakeshore art teacher Erin Janke said her students have small art shows in the school throughout the year, and pieces from these shows are selected to be displayed on the buses. The originals are photographed and printed on durable paper to be installed on the buses by Gorski.

“I think at any point when the kids can have their art displayed publicly, they are really proud,” Janke said. Particularly for kids who are reluctant about showing their art, she explained, “When they get it in the art show, or on the bus, they just beam.”