Shelley Buschur

Commuter activist

| November / December 2004

When Shelley Buschur needed a break from her work as a certified nurse midwife with uninsured women in Houston, she did not languish in uncertainty about what came next. 'I wanted to be a midwife to help an underserved population,' she says, 'but working in the county system can be very frustrating. So I went to art school.'

There she discovered a new interest, metalsmithing, which led to her current passion: car art. Car artists add paint and sculpture to vehicles for beauty, inspiration, and sending messages to others on the road, and art car parades have begun popping up around the country. Designing art cars allowed Buschur to combine her creativity with her commitment to service.

'People drive like lemmings, listening to bad news,' she says. But when you drive past them in an art car, 'you [have an impact on] their day by injecting an unexpected image into their panorama.' Buschur believes so strongly in the transformative magic of art on wheels that she went to war-torn Bosnia in 1997 and helped Bosnian children decorate bikes and hold a parade -- a first for most of the kids.

A Flint, Michigan, native who followed love to Texas, Buscher, 44, is still passionate about women's health and continues to work in the field, studying mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Women's issues have also inspired her four art cars. She transformed her first car, a Karmann Ghia convertible, in 1995. Inspired by a young woman who died of AIDS halfway through her pregnancy, she painted the car with images of floating goddesses and sculpted a large breast to the top. Another one of her converted cars, a 1988 Chevy pickup, is covered in women's undergarments -- pink slips, to be exact -- a punning tribute to the women's peace group Code Pink [see Utne, Jan./Feb. 2004], which aims to give President Bush a 'pink slip' in 2004. (She gets what she calls 'overtly negative' reactions to the car in Texas.)

During election season, Buschur took the pink-slip pickup on a tour of swing states. She sees car art as the perfect way to spread a message: 'You can put whatever you want on your car and people can't help but look.' And, she notes, the message on your car, unlike those on billboards, 'doesn't have to be approved by Clear Channel.'

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