Arts in Transit aims to bring performance artists to Lakeland commuters.
LAKELAND – In urban areas, there are plenty of different places to host art: museums, coffee shops, elegant restaurants, even on the walls of City Hall.
In Tom Phillips’ vision, there’s one other place, sometimes tapped into within major cities but not as often in smaller ones. And that place, he said, is on public transit.
But he’s convince just the same that art belongs on buses, on bus stations, and in other places where commuters regularly go.
“What we’re doing is Arts in Transit,” said Phillips, the executive director of Polk Transit, the county agency responsible for improving transportation access in the communities across Polk, from Lakeland over to Poinciana.
And what he came up with is a series of events and special activities that merge the arts with public transportation – to bring creativity to those who leave the driving to someone else.
“We’re trying to bring the arts community into this,” Phillips said. “We’re trying to bring our riders who might not have access to the arts directly to the arts community.”
It’s a concept that’s been tried – often in small, less ambitious ways – in cities like Chicago and San Francisco. But what Phillips is proposing is far more extensive.
“Art in Transit – Taking It To the Streets” is the proposal that Phillips came up with to allow commuters to “enjoy random acts of arts,” as Polk Transit’s advertising notes.
It will bring together commuters with poets, musicians, visual artists, and dancers, all performing platform-style art on Citrus Connection bus lines, operated through the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District, during peak travel times, including 8-10 a.m., lunchtime, and 3:30-5:30 p.m., this week, starting today and going through June 22.
Today at 3:30 p.m., caricature artist Dennis Hart departs from Plantation Square Publix on the No. 3 Lakeland Hills Boulevard bus route. He rides the loop, sharing his caricatures with riders before returning to Plantation Square at 4:38.
On Tuesday, violinist Bev Hendricks and Friends will perform live music from 11:15 a.m. to 12:05 p.m. , departing from the Lakeland downtown terminal.
David Collins of the Paint Along Studio will ride on Wednesday, starting at 8:01 a.m., for an hour on the #10 connector bus.
Phillips said the concept of merging the arts and public transit isn’t entirely new. Commuter rail lines and subway stations in major cities often host artwork, he said.
“It’s not uncommon to see static art on public transportation,” he said.
In addition, subway stations often attract musicians looking to perform for a large crowd, and maybe even pick up some spare change.
“People put up their guitar case and start playing – until the police come by,” he said.
But this may be one of the first times in recent memory, Phillips said, that a public transportation agency recruited artists to perform for commuters.
“We’re brining art to places that don’t necessarily have it,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about this. We will have poetry slams on the actual buses. They will do that up and down the corridor.”
Even in major cities, he said, this is a novel approach.
“They’ve never done anything this active,” he said. “If you look at Chicago and San Francisco, the transportation experience is about having static art.”
By bringing artists to the buses, Phillips said, he’s going beyond static art to the artists themselves, and incorporating different types of performance art.
“My goal is not to increase ridership,” he said. “Once people hear about the creative things people can do, this really take son a life of its own.”
The Poetry Slam will be on Thursday on the No. 1 Florida Avenue corridor route, southbound, which will depart the downtown Lakeland Terminal between 4:08-5:08 p.m., probably at the 4:38 p.m. departure time to Lake Miriam Square.
Arts in Transit concludes on Friday with random acts of live art at the Lakeland Terminal.

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