Why a school bus?
The mobile framework of the bus introduces freedom in location, including off-grid possibilities and new contexts to explore. Positioning the bus as a mobile gallery in the rapidly changing landscape of Vancouver is an active response to the prohibitive costs of real estate here. As costs of living rise, it becomes increasingly difficult for artists to afford spaces to make and show their work. In an effort to build a DIY solution to this problem, Vancouver artist Leah Weinstein has created a mobile gallery in a converted school bus, through which to explore roaming sites and liminal spaces in the ever-changing Vancouver landscape. Hovering between social sculpture and gallery, private vehicle and public space, SiteFactory hosts art projects and performances in streets, alleyways, parking lots, fields and a range of other designated and undesignated sites, operating as an independent institution for artists and the art-curious.
In 2010 I found this 1987 Chevrolet Bluebird school bus on the side of the highway in Chilliwack for sale. I'd been looking for such a bus to convert into a mobile studio (an idea I'd been entertaining since I first lived in a converted school bus on Cortes Island in my early twenties—something that happens when you're raised by West Coast homesteader parents). So I bought it, and this project began—in its first iteration—as an art studio.
With help from friends and family, we removed the seats, installed plywood floors and a wood stove. I drove it to Nelson, where I was living at the time, and used it as a studio space there (amazing to work in—the windows! the light!) Then in 2011 I moved with the bus back to the coast, this time to Courtenay on Vancouver Island, where I continued using it as a studio.
In 2012 I enrolled in Emily Carr University's Masters degree program, and returned to Vancouver (completing a Masters of Applied Arts degree in 2014). During my studies I dove into my sculptural practice, exploring performative, aesthetic interventions in public spaces. In 2013 I did an internship with American contemporary artist Andrea Zittel. This experience deeply influenced my own practice, particularly through witnessing her elegant strategies for merging art and life.
As I deepened my artistic research exploring nomadic shelter spaces and social sculptures, the notion of turning the bus into a mobile exhibition space emerged. The vision was to create a place for artists to experiment with a wider range of possible settings and locations, particularly relevant in Vancouver, where ongoing development is rapidly changing the city and exploding the costs of real estate here. So the mobile gallery idea took root. The bus, repurposed again to suit the circumstances at hand—as a mobile gallery—is ideal for exploring spaces between public and private.
Through conversations with friends and fellow Vancouver artists, I came into discussion with Vancouver interdisciplinary artist Laiwan, who is faculty in the MFA Interdisciplinary Arts program at Goddard College, and guest faculty at the Emily Carr University Masters of Applied Arts program on occasion. As the founder of Or Gallery in Vancouver, and with a diverse art practice, Laiwan's unique embodied perspective is expansive and astute. Laiwan agreed to mentor me through this project, and I received a BC Arts Council grant to fund a portion of this project.
In January 2016 I moved the bus back to Vancouver, in preparation for the June 2016 launch. Now with a season of 2016 projects nearly complete, I am looking forward to another year of exciting, experimental projects planned for 2017. Through these projects we can widen the range—literally and figuratively—of contemporary art in Vancouver, increasing the visibility and agency of artists, while pushing boundaries in terms of where and how art can happen.