José Luis Vilchez, 39 a photographer and filmmaker from Nicaragua, and Cora Rose, 33, a teacher and singer-songwriter from Wisconsin, wanted to pack up their things and travel the world.
But with so much equipment to carry, they realised backpacking just wasn’t going to cut it.
So they came up with a rather unconventional plan: to convert an old school bus into a mobile art studio, then travel around America spreading the power of art around underprivileged communities.
The couple bought an old school bus for just $6,500, then set about giving it a total makeover.
They sold the seats, air-conditioning system, and unused metal for scrap, then painted the entire bus from top to bottom, installing electric wires to fuel their essential appliances.
Solar panels were added to power up the stove, refrigerator, and water heater, and a dedicated media studio was created so the pair could do their work on the road.
After nine months of work – costing $22,293 in total – they were ready to set off.
The pair have called their project, an initiative to gain inspiration for their art and music and give back along the way, Art We There Yet.
So far, they have travelled over 30,000 miles across north, central, and south America for the last four years, spreading their passion for creativity to thousands of people.
Cora said: ‘The bus took 9 months to complete, from start to finish.
‘When we bought it, it was fresh from the schoolyard, complete with gum under the seats and lost pencils tucked between floorboards.
‘When we finished, it was a 198 sq ft fully off-grid tiny home with a recording studio, videography, photography and multi-media studio with space for up to five people to sleep at one time!
‘Converting the bus was a family affair! José and I worked full-time on the bus for nine months, and family was right there with us helping in their off-time.
‘José has family who works in carpentry, metalwork, and painting and they helped nearly every step of the way. Especially my brother-in-law, Jairo.’
The couple had initially planned to transform the bus in just three months, but soon realised this was unrealistic.
‘The most difficult part of the conversion was the stress of trying to complete it quickly while having no prior knowledge of how to convert a bus,’ said Cora.
‘We wanted to get on the road as soon as possible to keep all our supporters and followers happy, and we were working full-time on the bus with no outside income.
‘So, there was a lot of pressure to finish fast. But we stubbornly refused to do a poor job and risk dealing with unsafe conditions such as mould, rusting floor, leaks, improper electrical and poor propane plumbing.
‘We spent a significant amount of time doing our due diligence, researching how to do this and that, and then doing the job well. It was quite stressful!’
José and Cora have since taken on several projects to help underprivileged communities during their travels, as a way to give back with one thing they love the most – art.
In one of their most memorable projects, José and Cora held a children’s art workshop at a migrant camp on the US-Mexico border, teaching art to kids from families who were seeking asylum.
Speaking about the project, Cora said: ‘We spent a week in the Matamoros migrant camp, teaching art to children currently living in the camp while their families seek asylum in the United States.
‘We had no tables or chairs, so the children had to paint sitting on the ground, with dust flying through the camp all day.
‘Yet, the children were just so happy to be creating and playing with paint.
‘It was an invaluable escape for them, as well as an opportunity to use art to process the complex emotions they must be living with every day.
Many of the children have been traumatised many times over – first, by whatever circumstances forced their families to flee, then by the journey to get to the border, and now by the experience of living in the camp.’
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