Shreveport, LA’s painted art buses


“Greetings from Shreveport” bus by unknown artist

Shreveport’s art bus program was unique in that the art wraps were seen as an opportunity to promote the city and all that it had to offer. Winning submissions were successful in highlighting elements of either Shreveport’s cultural arts or its southern charm and character.  While this did dictate the subject matter of the work, artists could interpret the themes creatively in their personal styles.  In these regards, these moving murals of art and design doubled as advertisements for the city of Shreveport.

The first buses were painted in 1999.  The charge first came from Mayor Keith Hightower when he suggested SporTran use the buses as a blank canvas for a “quality of life endeavor” instead of as a medium for advertising. The Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC), SporTran and the city shared the responsibility of jurying, funding, and producing the painted buses.

New bus designs were released each year in late-summer, with four or five new designs painted directly on the buses at a cost of about $5,000 to $6,000 per bus, including a $1500 artist honorarium.  The program ran for six years total. By the last years of the program, a 3M wrapping material was being utilized for about 75% of each bus design.  While a painted bus would have a lifespan of 3-4 years with costly maintenance, the wraps, which were more durable and did not fade, would last until they were removed. 

Rolie Polie Olie bus by William Joyce

Approximately 20-25 bus designs have been created through this program.  Fifteen painted or wrapped buses are still around, with a majority still in service. Ten of those art buses are completely painted and four are completely wrapped.  Each bus design was also immortalized through postcards. 

The buses have been widely popular with the community and have given SporTran a good deal of positive publicity.  They have become a part of the community and the city’s landscape.  In some form, the art buses have changed peoples’ perception of bus transit from 23,000 pound liabilities to unique venues for art.  Along the same lines, they have also made taking transit a little more equitable, because people see the buses as more than a last resort to get from here to there.  Taking transit is now a bit exciting, because people do not know which bus they will get. 

Shreveport’s program playfully redefined what a bus should look like, and, in doing so, created lasting reflections of their city and changed residents’ perception of transit. 

Special thanks to Gene Eddy, Director of SporTran, Pam Atchison, Executive Director of SRAC, and Monica Leap of UNC-Chapel Hill for assistance with this profile.

Neon Bus by Neil Johnson