Art on the Go! (All Levels)

By Lantz, Jessica | School Arts, May-June 2003 | Go to article overview

Art on the Go! (All Levels)


Lantz, Jessica, School Arts


The Susquehanna Art Museum (SAM), founded in 1989 and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, developed the VanGo! museum on wheels in 1992. The mission of the VanGo! program is to provide exposure to original works of art to people who otherwise lack such opportunities. At the heart of this project is a belief that an art educational experience of quality should expose viewers to the primary source, rather than reproductions.

While SAM was founded in the late eighties, ideas for a mobile art museum had begun to brew among local art educators twenty years earlier. The same group of art educators, frustrated because there was no art museum in Harrisburg, were brainstorming on the idea that a rich art experience should involve original works of art. An art museum that goes to schools seemed to be a viable solution. With a gift from the Capital Area Transit Authority, the museum's board of directors received a gutted city bus for one dollar. More than $40,000 was raised to have the bus retrofitted with a cooling and heating system, wall panels, carpeting, and a colorful exterior. For seven years the VanGo! bus rolled along visiting schools and festivals reaching over 50,000 people. The bus literally wore out.

In September of 1999, SAM launched its new museum on wheels, VanGo! II. The museum's board and staff worked with Alexander Design Studio architectural firm, based in Maryland, to construct the new mobile museum. The design incorporates rolling exhibition panels, contemporary interior, temperature control, audio/visual access, sound system, and a wheelchair lift, all built into an 11 x 40' (3.5 x 12 m) bus with its exterior painted in brilliant colors featuring the face of inspiration, Vincent van Gogh.

The new bus expanded the program and allowed for exciting change. With an "over the road" bus rather than a city bus, the VanGo! program can now travel longer distances reaching as far as Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Philadelphia. The sound system and wheelchair lift make the program accessible to a wider range of visitors. The bus now visits Senior Centers and schools for disabled students.

VanGo! exhibitions follow the school year, running from September through mid-July. Each year, the show on the bus changes, each one bringing original works of art to schools, community festivals, businesses, and retirement centers. The original works of art are chosen from leading artists who have exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the world, or are works chosen from well-known collections. Each artist includes, with his or her piece, a short biography and resume of their past exhibitions, which is available on the bus in gallery notes. …

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