Charlotte Artist's Dream Of Mobile Studio For Kids Will Soon Hit The Road
There’s an unusual sight just off Monroe Road near East Mecklenburg High.
A school bus sits parked by its lonesome, painted white with splashes of yellow reminiscent of comic books and graphic art. And … it has nothing to do with the school. But it has everything to do with kids. It's the brainchild of Charlotte artist Bunny Gregory, and her dream — a long time coming — is finally about to hit the road.
Growing up in Charlotte, Gregory says she often felt isolated.
“I felt like such an outcast,” Gregory said. “I loved my friends and family, but I couldn’t hang out with them because they thought I was weird. I just didn’t feel like there were a lot of Black artists here.”
As part of a way to help foster a more diverse base of artists and other creatives, Gregory started a venue she called The Underground in 2014, not to be confused with the Music Factory space with the same name. The location didn’t last long and became more of a moving event held at different locations — most often, lately, in Gregory’s house.
There’s a lot of camaraderie. Sometimes there’s poetry and music, or painting and jewelry-making. Other times, folks gather around a fire — Gregory calls it the “bond fire” — and just talk.
She’s a lot more encouraged about diversity in the arts these days.
“There’s just this incredible amount of talent we have in our communities,” Gregory said, though she was quick to note something missing. “I feel like we're having to find space to find that. We don't have it in our own neighborhoods.”
Teenagers participate from time to time, but the overall vibe generally skews a bit older.
“I thought it would be amazing if the kids in ... Charlotte's underserved communities — poor Black communities — could actually do this, like kids who can't afford camp or classes,” Gregory said.
There was one thing standing in the way: connecting to kids whose families may have limited means of transportation. But Gregory’s an artist, so creative thinking is par for the course.
“What if we just take it to them?" she wondered.
That’s where the bus comes in. Gregory wants to use it as a mobile art studio version of The Underground that can go to different Charlotte neighborhoods and offer free lessons.
She bought the 1988 Thomas Built bus from a woman in Kings Mountain for about $3,500 last year. It already came with the word “dream” painted on the back and a Bible verse on the front: “Train children in the way they should go; when they grow up, they will not depart from it.”
Gregory’s upfitting it now, hoping to add a sink and artwork displays inside. She’s been able to outfit much of it herself because she used to build props and stage sets. Artists around town have chipped in for supplies, and she’s got insurance figured out. Profiles in Charlotte magazine and on Spectrum News have helped spread the word, but Gregory says she still needs to raise about $4,500 to make the dream sustainable.
Nonetheless, Gregory says the bus will make its debut on Saturday, May 8:
“We are just going to start doing stuff as it is, and we will work on it as we can.”
Gregory and artists with The Underground will offer lessons in art and music, but there will be other activities, too, like having master gardeners show kids how to make raised garden beds.
“I’m not necessarily trying to have a bus where I'm just creating a bunch of artists and musicians,” Gregory said. “... You may not be a painter, but the process of painting is creative, and you've got to figure it out. You've got to figure out what works or what doesn't. And I just want the kids to build those creative thinking skills.”
And Gregory wants kids to flex those skills in their own neighborhoods for more than just ease of access. Community identity, history and pride stay on Gregory’s mind — along with concern about gentrification — amid Charlotte’s surge of development.
“A lot of the kids are not being introduced to their own cultures,” Gregory said. “We're losing it. Our neighborhoods don't reflect who we are anymore. And even the ones where it's still a pretty strong concentration of Black and brown people ... I just feel like we're not as proud of our neighborhoods as we used to be.”
She’s seen some of that firsthand. She spent her early childhood living in Fairview Homes, a public housing community near what’s now known as Camp North End that’s since been completely redeveloped.
Gregory loves seeing young people realize what they’re capable of. And she hopes that helping them discover those passions where they live will help them realize what their communities are capable of.
“The kids are completely surprised at themselves, incredibly proud of themselves,” Gregory said. “And honestly, I feel like if there's something there in the neighborhood for them, they will become prouder of themselves, they will become prouder of their surroundings.”