Bunnies on a bus?

Bunnies in a boat. A multicolored forest. Big orange carrots. No, these aren't hallucinations — they're real examples of local artists' work that's coming to an Asheville city bus near you.

Three Asheville area artists have won the city's first "Art on Transit" competition, the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department announced recently. Each artist will be awarded a $750 honorarium, and their design will grace both sides of a single bus.

The winners were: Ray Noland's "Jeweled Forest," a color-splashed, whimsical forest; Naomi Johnson's photos of local food and farmers; and Nina Ruffini's "Message," featuring bunnies adrift in boats.

A five-member jury, which included a bus driver, met last month and considered more than 60 submissions. The jury picked six finalists and suggested the three winners, which were unanimously confirmed by Asheville's Public Art Board.

"The jury did a wonderful job and was thoughtful about each piece submitted," said Diane Ruggerio, the city's superintendent of cultural arts.

Asheville City Council member Gordon Smith, a mass-transit advocate who attended a recent Public Art Board meeting to check out the winning pieces, said: "Great choices. I'm really excited about seeing them up and live."

Will the art help boost bus ridership? Perhaps, but that wasn't really the point, according to Ruggerio.

"This was a public-art project. We felt it was an innovative way to get public art out there, and for us to work with two-dimensional artists like photographers, painters and illustrators," she explained. "It's really been a big collaboration."

The city is contracting with a company to create "wraps" for three buses at a total cost of about $10,000. The splashy vehicles should be on the streets by the first week of March, and because city buses are not assigned to specific routes, they'll be seen all around town.

The work will remain on display for at least four months, said Ruggerio, noting that she hopes "Art on Transit" will become an annual project.

To view a photo gallery of all the "Art on Transit" submissions, go to mountainx.com.

Ray Noland's "Jeweled Forest" is a color-splashed, whimsical forest. Image by Ray Noland
Naomi Johnson's photos of local food and farmers was a winner. Image by Naomi Johnson
Bus art: Nina Ruffini's "Message," featuring bunnies adrift in boats, is one of three winning designs that will grace the sides of an Asheville Transit System bus in March. Image by Nina Ruffini
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