There's a new spot in Greensboro that's turning heads.
In front of the Bryan YMCA at the corner of Market and Edgeworth Streets, two men drill into concrete to install a new bus shelter. Sculpturer Julia Burr directs them as they erect her newest Greensboro creation, a piece she calls functional art with a pop. “A curved roof with legs that are curved as well to give the feeling of movement and animation," explains Burr. "It is green because this is the color of growth, another kind of movement, while the bench is a very rich purple.” This project is the brain child of the group, Bringing Us Bus Benches and Shelters (BUBBS). In 2009, students from Dudley High School and from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) formed the group. Spoma Jovanovic is a professor of communication studies at UNCG and a founder of BUBBS. She says their mission is to increase public awareness that more benches and shelters are needed at the city's 1,100 bus stops. “One out of ten have a bench and even fewer have a shelter. So people who ride the bus don't have any protection from the sun and the rain," says Jovanovic. According to Jovanovic, many of the Dudley students and their family members use Greensboro's public bus system to get around the city. But many of the students at UNCG had never ridden the transit until after working on this campaign. This is BUBBS' third bus stop project. They funded a bench at Friendly and Green Streets near Elon University School of Law and one at Pear and English Streets. Benches cost about$2,000.
Jovanovic says this is the group's first social-art project and the first complete shelter unit the students have worked to get funded. She also believes it is a great teaching tool. "Our Dudley high school students now realize they can change things in their community while our UNCG students are learning first-hand about a daily challenge many in this city face." Between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013, the Greensboro Transit System reports it made about 4.5 million passenger trips.
In Greensboro's city limits, there are 75-80 bus stops that have shelters and benches. Another 90 have only benches. According to Transit Systems Planner George Linney, there are geographical constraints to erecting more shelters. “In order for us to have a bench or a shelter, the new styles require we put down a concrete pad," explains Linney. "Sometimes there is not enough room and sometimes there is wiring underground that we cannot dig up to put a concrete pad there.” Jovanovic says the group realizes the city has limited resources to cover the expense of a full unit. A shelter with a bench and trash can cost between $10,000-$12,000. So last year, BUBBS submitted their proposal for a public art bus shelter to SynerG's Big Idea competition. They won $10,000. “One of the very best things about this project is how people have been very supportive of what the young people are doing," says Jovanovic. "They are also learning if you are committed to something, often others will want to help you and support you.”
The bus shelter's three metal walls are hollow with diamond shaped openings, similar to a net. Inside the walls are 23,000 small, translucent marbles. It's a mix of green, sea blue and tiger eye. Sculpturer Julia Burr says they will cause the shelter to glitter even at night when car lights shine on the marbles. "They give the structure an elegant, fun look." But the biggest challenge is getting them inside the openings on top of each panel. Burr, Jovanovic and other volunteers quickly discovered that plastic water bottles cut in half were the best tool to pour in the marbles. Large clear marbles fill the back rest of the purple bench.
As the final touches are being made, 13-year-old Tony Munga and his 8-year-old sister, Isabella, get off the city bus in front of the Bryan YMCA at Market and Edgeworth Streets. And they like what they see.
“I've only taken the bus to the Y once or twice," says Tony. "Now that there's a shelter here, I may start coming more often." Isabella says she's attracted to the artistry. “It looks pretty because it looks like a bunch of sparkles, and I like sparkles.” According to Jovanovic, other community groups have contacted her and say they want to duplicate BUBBS' efforts. So this fall, the group plans to write a guide on how to create art bus shelters.