Here’s Your Chance to Trick Out Somerville’s New Traveling Art Bus

Organizers want a shark's fin—or some other type of hood ornament—welded to the vehicle.

If you thought the Partridge Family’s tour bus was cool (hopefully, you didn’t), wait until you see what the city of Somerville has in store for a used vehicle that they purchased with the blessing of Mayor Joe Curtatone.

The Somerville Arts Council announced last week that it’s bringing local artists together so they can try to “trick out” a full-sized school bus and transform it into a traveling arts and entertainment vehicle. The bus will make stops at community events and serve as the centerpiece for future outdoor concerts and festivals.

They’re calling it the Multi Use Somerville Community Roving Transport, or MUSCRAT (sidenote: Somerville has a rat problem, so maybe this wasn’t the best name?), and they envision that instead of lugging around screaming school children, the bus will be used to cater to traveling art classes and performance art on the inside, and film screenings and live events on the outside. The intent for the MUSCRAT is to create a flexible roving catalyst for creation, according to a post from the Somerville Arts Council, the organization heading the project.

Rachel Strutt, program manager at the Somerville Arts Council, said after talking with a local artist who wanted to revive an abandoned mobile library that was sitting in the Department of Public Works’ parking lot, they decided pursuing something like the MUSCRAT would be an even better fit for the city. “We went to the mayor and said, ‘we should have a roving arts mobile,’ and he said, ‘let’s do it.’ We got the funding for it, we went shopping for a bus, and we just ripped the seats out recently. The inside of the bus is bare,” Strutt said.

In order to make this bus stand out and become an operational and mobile arts platform for residents, the Arts Council is looking for volunteers to help spruce up the vehicle with their individual expertise. The council is looking for artists, welders, and “all creative folks” to design the bus exterior,and add sculptural elements that might be welded onto the bus. “Beyond just a great mural, I am hoping we can get something welded onto it. Maybe shark’s fin on top, or a funky, wacky hood ornament of some kind—something that helps capture Somerville’s personality,” said Strutt. “We wanted concurrently to get a carpenter working on the inside and local organizations on the outside.”

The plan is to have the bus all decked out by the summer, so that it can make its artistic debut at the annual “Artbeat” festival that the organization puts on. From there, Strutt said they have some grand visions for the vehicle. “Maybe we can rig some speakers on top of it,” she said, referencing a scene from the Blues Brothers. “I am also hoping we can do crazy dance parties, and maybe have tarps coming out of each side.”

Once the project is finished, the MUSCRAT will likely be available for arts programming for the rest of the summer. The Arts Council plans on using the bus in the same way they plan Union Square programming, where they put out a call for submissions for events and residents pitch their ideas before they are granted the space. “We’ll decide which ones are strong ideas, and hopefully create a whole roster of roving programming. I also hope it can serve programming to parts of Somerville that don’t have a lot of existing arts spaces and venues,” said Strutt.

No matter what becomes of the bus’s decor, as the project rolls forward the council will leave one section of the vehicle open so that they can rotate in original artwork periodically, in the form of paintings by different artists and groups from Somerville, so that everyone that wants to has a small stake in the MUSCRAT. “The sky is the limit,” the Arts Council said.

Rules and guidelines on how to apply for the program to “trick out” the bus can be found here.