This Week in the Classroom: Art Car

For the past three spring semesters (way back to my work at Citizen Schools) I have led a team of students in the design and construction of an Art Car.  An Art Car, if you don’t know, is an embellished vehicle of some sort.  Last year, I ran a sharkcar, the year before, a gatortruck.  This year, I received permission to use the school bus.  We run our car in The Houston Art Car Parade every second Saturday in May.

Of course, whatever I did had to be removable.  Nothing like a challenge.

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Over two months my students designed, cut out, painted and decorated about sixty monarch butterflies to festoon on the car.  We attached the butterflies using two methods – rare-earth magnets or an unholy sandwich of masking tape-liquid nails-masking tape.  Done right, both methods can withstand highway driving speeds.  Done right, they both can be removed easily.

I did it right.

I found many advantages to the design choices.  I found making the plywood butterflies a manageable one man task.  I probably spent 10-15 man-hours cutting the butterflies out.  During standardized testing in April, I utilized left over time to park the kids in front of a butterfly to paint.  Minimum of time, breadth of involvement.

I found some cons too.  Minimum of time doesn’t stack well against the competition.  Our school was up front, #112, behind the low-riders & previous winners and followed immediately by the political statement crowd.  I felt the bus was slightly naked, especially for a “glue stuff on” art car.  I had a dearth of participation from my students – only one showed up!  I blame this on my design choice:  by making the system so rigid, I de-vested ownership from the kids, instead of investing it.  I’m going to be making a few changes next year to boost participation.

I’ve discovered the need for a partner for this project.  At three years, I’m at a breaking point.  I can’t build and host the event.  I know which one I want to do…we’ll see which piece I’ll get to do next year. (Update-since-Draft:  a co-worker and long-time attendee has agreed to “host” the school’s meet-up.  I made the impressions I had to.)

One last reflection – this is a semi-permanent design.  I will add more kinetics props, a hood ornament and roof-thing over the years.  This was just a beginning…

Keep it safe & keep the rubber side down out there.