Carole Garmon found her inspiration among piles of trash.
On a trip to the Stafford County dump, the chair of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Mary Washington snapped up what others might have passed by without a second glance– two dirty, dilapidated bicycles.
Now, more than a year later, Garmon and her art students are collecting and refurbishing discarded or broken-down bikes. They are embellishing them with their own artistic spin, with plans to launch an informal bike share program this semester.
“What started with me bringing in two bikes has grown into the Art Bike/Shared Bike project,” Garmon said.
In tandem with Garmon’s efforts, the President’s Council on Sustainability is also exploring ways to make the university more bike-friendly through a formal bike plan. Joni Wilson, director of sustainability, serves as the bridge between both groups. She and Garmon hope to debut two finished bikes in conjunction with RecycleMania, an annual recycling competition that begins Feb. 3.
Wilson first thought about improving biking on campus in 2012 when Justin Doyle ’08, then a master’s student at Virginia Commonwealth University, came back to campus to share his thoughts on a campuswide bike plan.
“There were all of these pieces floating around and this seems to be the year when we will pull everything together,” Wilson said. “We would like to have a formal bike share program for UMW at some point. Our first step is to create a bike culture on our campus.”
In the meantime, Garmon, who frequently uses recycled materials in her work, had begun recruiting students to help repair and re-paint abandoned or donated bicycles.
Before Trey Foster ’13 graduated last year, he used his bike mechanic skills to weed through the donated bikes.
“She had me look over the bikes and decide which ones were worth keeping, and what kinds of work needed to be done,” he said.
Senior Sidney Mullis, a studio art major, started helping with the project as she waited for pieces to dry in one of Garmon’s sculpture classes, and now frequently touches up paint or fills tires in her spare time.
“It looks really cool when you have six or seven bikes that are completely painted and designed with strange materials,” she said. “It will be useful for art students and whoever wants to ride them, but also it will be a really good way to publicize our department and our strong community.”
Jon McMillan, assistant professor of ceramics, frequently rides the colorful bikes around campus to get to meetings.
“Usually people take notice,” he said. “I always get some good looks on campus.”
The bikes have drawn attention at admissions events for prospective students, too.
“They always make comments about them, just because it is something different than the standard information table,” he said.
Now, both Garmon and Wilson hope to gain momentum for their projects with some help from the community.
Wilson is looking for student groups that are interested in partnering with the administration and the President’s Council on Sustainability to explore future bike policies and a formal bike plan.
“I want to spend this semester talking to different groups,” Wilson said. “My personal plan would be to feel out where we can create that relationship, so that in the fall we would have some idea of how this is going to work with new policies in place.”
Garmon needs spaces – either on-campus or in Fredericksburg – where she and her students can house the bikes while they are refurbishing and repairing them, especially during the winter months. She hopes to have at least five bicycles repaired and ready to ride by the end of the spring semester.
“We’re taking something that somebody would discard and we are providing transportation,” Garmon said. “We don’t see ourselves as having ownership, we see ourselves as a conduit, a channel of getting [the bikes] out there.”
To find out more about the Department of Art and Art History’s efforts or to talk to Carole Garmon about volunteer opportunities, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. To talk with Joni Wilson about exploring a formal bike plan, please email email@example.com.