Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Goodbye To The Peacebus!

In 2007 I received a very interesting phone call. It was from the head of the Educational Arts Programs division of the Ontario Arts Council. The OAC had heard – thro’ the grapevine – about the environmental arts programs that I had been organizing and voluntarily teaching in London libraries. A little over six months later, I found myself receiving funding so that I could expand my classes into four elementary schools. Most of my blogs in 2008 and the beginning of 2009 shared stories and photos from these classes.

I thought that my dreams were coming true. After thirteen years of sacrifice and struggle, it seemed that I had finally found a way to create art and influence young minds in a more profound way. This dream was short lived!

When I was unable to have my next art programs funded (and these programs were even better than my first ones), I had to face facts. I needed to be able to provide a stable income for my family and my art ambitions were not providing that stability. What was I to do? What kind of job would make me happy? What kind of job could make me feel proud?

As I pondered these questions, I heard a ‘beep-beep’ from a horn outside my window, and I looked outside to see a school bus driving by. A smile crept onto my face.

A few weeks later, I had completed my training and I was about to start on an adventure that would keep that smile on my face for another year and a half!

I had a lot of fun with all of my student riders. We shared funny stories, and had interesting conversations. Occasionally, I would even bring my guitar and play a short tune while the students boarded the bus, in the afternoons. The students learned that I was an artist and we talked about art quite a bit. Then, one afternoon, one of the students presented me with a drawing that would inspire the birth of The Peacebus!

These phenomena continued, as more and more students started to create artwork for me to decorate the bus with. I was continuously amazed be all of their creative talents!

I would venture an estimation that over the last year and a half I had received close to one thousand artworks created by just under two hundred students!!!!

After a little while, I began to create art competitions on the bus, to focus the students’ creativity to a particular subject matter or topic. I had to create prizes for these art competitions and soon T-shirts and posters were being created to share with my students…

… oh… and buttons!!!

All of these actions, inturn, inspired the students to make ‘peace’ a part of their lives and wardrobe. The students delighted in getting on the bus to show me their newest peace T-shirts, peace shoes, peace shoelaces, peace necklaces, peace earrings, peace this-is and peace thats-is!

After every school term I would switch my bus route so that I could continue my artcapades with different students and different schools. This good-bye letter from Mikayla made me realize how important my job was!

The Peacebus was becoming a London phenomenon! It was hard to miss it – with all the decorations filling every window and ‘Peace/Earth’ songs spilling out of these windows to delight all the people on the streets.

I’m sure that you can imagine how incredibly happy I was to witness my ‘peaceart’ philosophies expanding into other buses. With absolutely no effort on my part I was seeing other students making the effort to bring art and creation onto their buses! When this happened I began dreaming about how my blog stories and Facebook art photoalbums may be inspiring the birth of other Peacebuses around the world.

One of my most profound memories will always be the artworks created by a grade one student by the name of Nathan. When the students began learning about the problems in the Amazon Rainforest – and around the world – caused by clear-cut forestry, I could see that Nathan became very frustrated with these facts. A few days later, he began handing in drawings of inventions that he would soon be creating to solve these global problems.

He had designed flying cars that, “are fuelled by pollution and clean air comes out of the exhaust,” that would fly around the world planting trees in all the areas where there are clear-cuts. He had designed spaceships with robot monkeys that will, “fly through space collecting all the garbage and pollution out there.” There was also his invention of a new species of tree that, “has a home inside for forest animals and has mechanical arms that will plant more trees.”

All of these things make me think of a short quote that I wrote a few years ago. “The path to our future will be found in the imaginations of our children.” All of my students are living examples of this thought and I’m positive that our future is in the most caring hands.

So… many of you may be wondering why the days of Mr. Jim and The Peacebus have come to an end…

When I first started driving with Murphy Bus Lines I needed to be saved. Saved from my inability to find more resources to continue teaching in the schools. This job didn’t pay very much – it was, after all, only part-time – but it was a steady income. My spare time was filled with many other art adventures and community events that made me feel that I was using my time very effectively.

After thirteen years of sacrifice and struggle, I needed time to unwind, refocus and collect myself. This last year and half I have been more than successful in accomplishing these tasks. A ‘great weight’ had been lifted off of my shoulders and I began to find a happiness within me that I didn’t know existed.

I am ever so grateful for all of these experiences, for they have helped to heal my spirit and enlighten my heart! I knew, from the beginning, that I would have to someday take bolder steps as I work my way into my future… and that time has come.

Yesterday, was the first day of the school year and I had a few mixed feelings in my heart as I began training for my new job with Voyageur Transit Services. This new position will see me providing a much-needed service to London residences who have mobility problems… and this position is full time.

Joanne and I have many great aspirations in our lives and I feel that by working harder in both my employment and my art ambitions that we will be able to live a more fruitful life.

I expressed some of my initial concerns to Jo’ and she replied, “Yes, the students will miss you as much as you miss them. You have brought many smiles to many young faces. Now, think about all the new people that you will meet, who have lived through so many painful experiences. You will bring many smiles to their faces, too… and, somehow, I think that these people may need someone like you in their lives… and, somehow, I think that you may need them, too.”


1 comment:

tobius said...

Fantastic - I wish you luck in your new undertaking. GOOD LUCK, keep us posted as to your adventures. Will this be a disability bus? If you need more buttons in the future for this new line of work, please do not hesitate to query about some buttons.