Fleisher van: art classes on wheels

If you’re high-brow, it looks like a painting by Piet Mondrian. If you’re low-brow, it looks like the Partridge Family bus.

The 2011 Ford Transit van is outfitted with industrial racks that can deliver printmaking equipment, or a pottery wheel, or easels, or any artmaking practice to any outdoor public space. Its bright geometric color blocks is a vinyl wrap created by design students at Drexel University.

“The doors swing really wide open and we’ll be able to use the van like a mobile studio,” said Matthew Bruan, executive director of Fleisher, demonstrating the rear-door hinges that swing 270 degrees.

The van is designed to go to people who don’t go to Fleisher. Even though it has been at Catharine and 7th Streets for over 100 years, many South Philly residents hesitate to explore the arts education center.

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“Sometimes it’s difficult for people who may live even with blocks of Fleisher to register for classes and make commitments and sign their kids up or sign themselves up,” said Braun. “So people in the neighborhoods are asking us to be more available to them to bring what we have right to their doorsteps and playgrounds.

The van, called Color Wheels, was bought and tricked out with a $30,000 grant from PNC Bank’s “Arts Alive” project. In its new round of 2012 grants, PNC has just given another $35,000 for programming the van.

The people who staff the van need to know more than just art. They need to be trained in how to teach art in public spaces, to people with varying degrees of experience, cooperation, and attention span. They have to be prepared for disasters, great and small. At least three staffers will always be with the van when it is in public. 

“How do you manage groups of people, and how do you think through what you might do?” said Magda Martinez, Director of Arts Education. “Even though your plan might change once you meet the group of people you’re working with, it’s always easier to change the plan you have than to change the plan as you go along on the fly. The training is in the preparation.”

The Fleisher van will make its public debut on Saturday, March 24, at the PNC Bank at 8th and Christian Streets. After that it is booked for four gigs until June, with more expected. It’s route will be focused on South Philadelphia neighborhoods first before heading out into other parts of Philadelphia.

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