From the tree removal to the business closings to the traffic congestion, it has become a popular pastime for drivers and pedestrians navigating Central Avenue to criticize both the merit and the execution of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project. On our best days, we remain hopeful; on our worst, we curse the thing. Leaving that aside, let’s consider the little “a” art of the ART project. Soon (hopefully) these buses will be on the road and with them comes new public art worthy of closer inspection, if for no other reason than its declarative intent issued by the mayor.
This month, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller released renderings of the new ART buses with this statement: “These buses will also have a new distinctively New Mexico look; something to better reflect our Burqueño spirit.” In this case, the “Burqueño spirit” is found in the new bus graphic full of balloons in bright colors, set against the purple Sandias with flowering desert plants and happy desert creatures frolicking (is that roadrunner smiling at me?). Drawn in a flat cartoonish style, it would be all too easy to see Bugs Bunny pointing out the wrong turn in this scene. As a bus graphic, it could be worse. As public art as important as this should be, it falls flat. With such lofty goals as to reflect “our Burqueño spirit” while still being on the side of a bus, it could be so much more. Let’s consider some of the many other ideas.
Albuquerque’s graffiti is second to none and some of the finest artwork in this city could use a more public, sanctioned platform. Graffiti is a contemporary and honest view of how many in this city feel at any given moment. Why not turn loose the graffiti artists on the buses? Who would not enjoy seeing fresh, local work to rival pre-Giuliani New York streaming along our main corridor?
Alternatively, it can easily be argued that no city is better known for lawyer ads. We already have some of the finest big head-plus-slogan lawyer advertising in the country. With those plus the mythology built around Albuquerque from television, we could easily justify filling the ART buses with legal ads while making a buck in the process. Is that not also a true reflection of our Burqueño spirit?
Or maybe just coat them in the latest fire truck visibility colors of lime-yellow or bright white. It’s modern, practical and the visibility is an asset in announcing their arrival (when they arrive). The spirit of both drivers and pedestrians will be soothed with the clarity of knowing where the bus is from great distances.
Ridiculous ideas, maybe, but to capture “our Burqueño spirit” in a public transpiration project is a tall order under the best of circumstances and clearly, no one would argue that ART has been a project conducted under the best of circumstances. These graphics are too simplistic and bland to reflect anything about the people of Albuquerque, but especially for a project so fraught with negative experiences badly in need of a PR turnaround. The new bus graphics are a missed opportunity to create something out of these buses that does truly reflect the “Burqueño spirit” under the sway of our better angels.