Meadville Tribune

July 12, 2013

Group hopes eye-catching, earth-friendly shelter is next stop on Urban Art Trail

By Konstantine Fekos
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Efforts to construct an eye-catching, earth-friendly bus shelter for Asbury Manor residents amount to more than just a public works project, according to members of Allegheny College’s Art & Environment Initiative.

Art students working on the shelter for Meadville’s Fifth Ward are living up to the program’s goal of using their skills to beautify landscapes, solve problems and build a sense of community, all while promoting artistic awareness, said Amara Geffen, Allegheny art professor and Initiative director.

“When you have people working together on a shared goal, you’re enhancing social capital for people to get engaged and contribute,” she said. “Community members bring us ideas for artwork and improvements that would be useful and appropriate.”

The project’s conception certainly had useful and appropriate in mind when Allegheny alumnae Emma Cook sought to put a roof over the heads of some 40 or more Asbury residents waiting for public transportation with no protection from the elements.

While students may not have built a bus shelter before, the Art & Environment Initiative has made artistic work of similarly unique, community-focused projects over the past 15 years.

Notable works include adjacent projects Read Between the Signs, the arrangement of road signs in various shapes and styles along Route 322 depicting city landmarks valued by community members who gave their input, and Signs and Flowers, a sculptural garden.

The Initiative’s environmental art projects comprise the Urban Art Trail, which spans from Interstate 79 through the Meadville gateway and into and through the City of Meadville, highlighting the city’s history and landscapes.

Among the downtown art is “Meadville at the Crossroads” mural located on Park Avenue and a Park Theatre-themed mural located behind the @ The Bank building on Clinton Court.

“The Asbury project is very much a continuation of our current work,” Geffen said. “It’s a very different project from the others, but we’re pretty excited for it.”

Geffen and her students teamed up with several local businesses and organizations to help realize the project, including Porter Consulting Engineers, Crawford County Area Transportation Authority (CATA), Asbury Manor Mobile Home Park East and Meadville Plate Glass.

“It’s a different neighborhood we’re working in, but it’s still a part of Meadville proper, so we thought it would make sense to collaborate with CATA, the City (of Meadville), Asbury and its residents to create a shelter for that site,” Geffen said.

Students have worked closely with Vernon Township Engineer Ashley Porter to map out feasible and cost-effective designs using mainly recycled materials. The project’s total funding will ultimately determine the design.

Ideally, the finished product will inspire those it shelters, serving as a functional work of art, said Kristy Garcia, rising Allegheny junior and summer intern for the Art & Environment Initiative.

“It’s really important that (the shelter) inspires the community,” she said. “We haven’t made it down to the Fifth Ward as much, but it’s a strong part of the community so we’ll bring focus down there and continue the Urban Art Trail.”

Garcia and fellow students also hope to collect inspirational quotes from community members to display on the structure in some fashion, possibly by engraving.

If students don’t raise enough money by next Wednesday, however, they won’t receive any of the money pledged through their kickstarter.com fundraising campaign, Geffen said.

As of Thursday night, “The Bus Stops Here: A Shelter For Asbury Manor” has more than 60 financial backers who’ve collectively pledged approximately $4,855 so far.

Members of the Art & Environment Initiative launched the crowd-funding campaign last month, hoping to raise a minimum of $12,000 by July 17.

The campaign goal is necessary to construct the shelter, while any additional funds would allow for creative additions, possibly a rain garden or solar panel to potentially light the shelter at night, according to students.

With the fundraising deadline approaching fast, members of the Art & Environment Initiative are grateful for their current pledges and prospective donor Miriam Bowman, of Meadville, who announced plans to give upwards of $10,000 to the cause.

“Amara’s a good friend; I admire what she does,” Bowman said, also enthusiastic about helping to “ease the situation of people standing in the elements to catch a bus. Been there, done that.”

Although many causes and agencies have their hands out for donations, Bowman said, the Art & Environment Initiative’s direct action and promise of visible results got her interested.

“Whatever they get, they will use wisely, and I’m committed to that amount which will provide a bottom line, at least,” she said. “(These are) creative people who are working on the project who put a lot of time and thought in the process.”

- More information about the Art & Environment Initiative: Visit ceed.allegheny.edu/A&EI/index.html.

Donations to the Kickstarter campaign can be made online by searching for “The Bus Stops Here: A Shelter For Asbury Manor” at kickstarter.com. Anyone interested in assisting with the shelter’s construction may call Porter Consulting Engineers at 337-4447.

Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kfekos@meadvilletribune.com.