You couldn’t miss this school bus if you tried.
It’s medium-length, painted blue and green, and, in a few years, it will be covered with every color in the rainbow, painted by hundreds of hands.
The art project will take four men across North and South America to show the “sameness” between all people, said Edgar “Oscar” Ruiz.
“We want to reflect the similarities between humans, despite geographical or cultural location,” said Will Kasson III, “the things that run deep within the human species, that make us all the same, all members of the same community.”
“We all want happy families. We all want safe drinking water. There’s more that unites us as a human race than divides us, and we keep seeing so many things that are divisive,” said R. Chris Clark, who is leaving his work as the Coastal Point’s photographer for this experience of a lifetime. “We are all really similar, so we want to promote that.”
They’ll drive from the northernmost tip of the United States (Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where temperatures dipped below 40 degrees in August) to the bottom of South America (Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina), then back to Delaware.
In different towns, they’ll meet with schools or neighborhoods, inviting people to paint the bus or plywood poster boards.
The trip may take two or three years, but they’re not worried about the exact schedule. They want to meet people, be flexible, stay a few more days in a small Ecuadorian town, if they so choose.
They especially want to paint with middle-school children. Mature enough to work with adults but not yet jaded about the world, pre-teens are open-minded enough to dream about the world being a different place, they said.
Kids, they believe, can also help the artistic team break the ice with adults across the globe.
“This is a big communal art project,” said Ruiz, the project’s logistics guy and translator on the southern part of their journey.
They’ll come home with a fully painted bus.
“Everywhere we stop, we’re going to fill it up, little by little,” said Ruiz.
“This will be a giant mural that will reflect all the different things that these children in these cultures see and similarities that humans share,” despite boundaries in territory, society and technology.
Despite modern technology, they said, people increasingly to view things from afar, rather than experience cultures for themselves. This project will aim to pierce that barrier, better connecting people to humankind.
How can hundreds or thousands of people contribute to a single project? The team turned to local artist John Donato, who is well known for his work helping local school students paint murals so that every single child can participate in a meaningful way.
Donato will be the fifth-man and point-person at home, receiving the artworks and occasionally joining the team abroad. He’ll one day add finishing touches to several years’ worth of art boards, too. He’ll literally and figuratively pull them together, adding the lines that make this a cohesive story.
“When we get back here, that’s when the artwork will ultimately unfold,” Clark said.
Video editing will begin when they return home, as the team creates a documentary about their journey.
They’ll also add the details that connect those moments: the conversations, the emotions, the challenges and the little details that make these stencils a story.
“We may not even know what’s relevant” until returning home and reminiscing, Clark said. “We may only know, like, 20 to 30 percent of what’s gonna happen in the next three years. The rest of it is just … gonna unfold in ways that are beyond our wildest imaginations.”
On the surface, this sounds like a Magical Mystery Tour. But the men’s vision became more clear with every layer of paint.
The bus is mostly painted sky blue, with green hills and blacktop roads painted along the bottom half.
“It’s leaving from Delaware and will be returning to Delaware,” Clark said. “The goal is collect all of this and have fun with the world, and bring it back to Delaware.”
They’ll use the Pan-American Highway — a series of roads from the century-old dream of connecting the two continents.
Most people “don’t know that, at one point in time, we said, ‘How can we connect all this together?’” said Ruiz, who is originally from Puerto Rico.
“The idea is to capture as much information as possible,” Donato said.
Bells rang for Donato when he first heard the idea, indicating an exciting project in the making.
“I think it’s gonna be big, and I think it’s gonna be long,” but, most importantly, Donato said, “I think it’s gonna start a movement.”
Donato just finished a similar bus project with the Town of Laurel. And now here’s his chance to bring a whole side of the planet together.
With film and acting experience, Kasson said he can’t wait to start some conversations and “inspire some people to discuss issues they never confronted before.”
Kasson called himself a jack-of-all-trades and the project’s morale officer when moods turn grim.
“I’m a huge fan of the human species,” said Kasson. For him, the artwork is the actual travel and human interaction. When the guys come home, it will be their job to reflect that artistic experience in the murals or documentary.
Clark said he is delighted to use his background in art, construction and hospitality to follow his love of travel across the globe (yet again).
Why North and South America?
“This is where we’re from. We’re from the Americas, so we gotta start from our hometown and go from there,” Ruiz said.
Plus, it’s less expensive than Europe.
With their own savings, grant funding and, they hope, future donations, this nonprofit art project will “make a small difference in the world,” Ruiz said.
To look for America
Just two weeks before their planned Aug. 8 departure date, the bus itself arrived from Illinois, along with some local grant money. The guys paused occasionally to talk while building a rooftop deck in the hot summer sun.
Within hours, the bus was to leave Delaware and collect a fourth traveler/mechanic, Ethan Caswell of South Florida, from BWI airport.
“I think we’ve got a fantastic crew,” Kasson said. “The total is the greater than the sum of the parts.”
They’ve got plenty of challenges ahead. Will towns welcome them? Will they get enough funding? Will the bus break down?
They had already had mechanical issues by late August, as they crossed through the Midwest. But the bus was mobile again this week. They’ve also installed benches, retractable shelf beds and a stove. Solar panels on the roof will help power a freezer and refrigerator.
After some personal summer trips, the gang will depart California in September, headed for Alaska.
They’re making connections early, as other Delawareans help the artists connect with distant towns, from Alaska to South America.
Social media will also play a big part as they broadcast their journey on Facebook page at “Pan American Highway Web Series Expedition.”
The full website will go live in mid-September at www.pahwse.com. Donations will be welcomed to help keep the bus, and its artistic and philosophical journey, moving forward.