Photos: Sarah Schuman
While the upstart Bronx Children’s Museum waits for its permanent home to open in 2015, it relies on a converted International® school bus to transport its inaugural exhibit—a mobile, interactive diorama of the Bronx River—directly to local students.
The bus has traveled a long, emotional road in the years since it began serving school districts in Maryland in 1995. It was first converted into an “art bus” in 2007 by the parents of a teenager from Potomac, Md. who wanted to use a bus to bring arts programs to inner-city youth.
Tragically, the teenager, who suffered from bipolar disorder, passed away before her dream was realized. But her family fulfilled her vision, and for three years they traveled the state in the bright–purple bus to share their daughter’s artwork and to raise awareness of mental health issues.
In 2010, the family donated the bus to the new Bronx Children’s Museum, which was looking for ways to kick off programs in the community. “They found us, and it was a perfect fit,” says Executive Director Carla Precht. “Because we don’t have a site yet, for now the bus is our museum. It’s been the most valuable resource we could have imagined.”
Now the museum’s On the Go Bus is the traveling home of an exhibit called “River on the Go: Where Is Justin the Beaver?” Thanks to the efforts of a small army of artists, designers and educators, the interior has been transformed into a living, breathing rendition of the Bronx River—complete with rock outcroppings, native flora and piped-in sounds of authentic wildlife. Trained guides share stories of birds, bugs and other animals, but the real star, of course, is the lifelike re-creation of the river’s most famous resident: a brown, paddle-tailed critter named after a certain teenage pop star.
MAKING AN IMPACT
Since its 2011 debut, more than 6,000 kids throughout the Bronx have boarded the “River on the Go” bus at schools, festivals and parades. “Most of the children we visit have never even been to a river,” says Carla Precht. “We hope the bus inspires them to take a trip to the Bronx River themselves.”