Chuck Ventura wheeled his bicycle up to Urschel Pavilion Thursday afternoon to see what was going.
A large white canopy was set up in the parking spots next to the pavilion. A 2005 Pontiac Montana minivan, obscured by a brightly painted skin, sat under the canopy, marked off with crowd control fencing and yellow caution tape that fluttered in the breeze.
“We’re putting up positive messages and we’re painting,” Aimee Tomasek, chair of the art department at Valparaiso University, said by way of a greeting.
Ventura, who lives in downtown Valparaiso, paused as artist Christopher Olszewski readied tubes of paint and paintbrushes on a picnic table.
“It’s about time this town got some art, some soul,” Ventura said. “It’s cool, a cool idea. A graffiti car.”
Ventura chatted briefly with Olszewski about the project.
“It’s fun. It’s springtime and all this fun stuff goes on down here. You get the pulse,” Ventura said. “I like the idea – modern art, street art.”
For part of the afternoon and evening, the public was invited to participate in Olszewski’s project, painting on the skin or writing positive messages with permanent marker on brightly colored ribbon to be affixed to the yellow tape.
“It’s a positive message board. Post-election, there’s still a lot of negativity, so I thought this project could make us think about what we have,” he said.
Olszewski expected ribbons all over the caution tape and more paint on the on the already painted skin over the car by the time the event was over Thursday night.
“I’ve done projects where I have 50 people, and I’ll have projects in urban centers where in a few days I have thousands of messages,” he said, adding at a festival in Orlando, Fla., “I was really excited. I couldn’t keep up with the number of people who were coming.”
Olszewski, a Detroit native now living in Savannah, Ga., and teaching at the Savannah College of Art and Design, said when the economy crashed in 2008, the galleries he was associated with went under and he had artwork sitting around.
“I really starting thinking about what I was doing,” he said, adding he also got his first real teaching job, and began looking at artists who created public art.
He decided he wanted to do an art car but didn’t want something with glitter all over it. Olszewski found out about the skins, which he can change out and hang up when an exhibit is over.
While Olszewski usually uses a 1998 Cadillac DeVille, that car is having engine trouble, so he’s using the van instead.
“It’s a mobile art studio,” he said.
The project, Tomasek said, was a joint effort between the university’s art department and the Valparaiso Creative Council, which works to promote art in all its forms in the community.
“It’s an eclectic group of people who represent the arts as well as other community interests,” said Tomasek, who’s also on the council’s board, adding Olszewski’s public art project and a related lecture were the council’s kickoff events.
The art installation, Olszewski said, was “for John Q. Public,” before two VU students approached the project.
“Pick up a color that you like, pick up a Sharpie and you’re ready to roll,” he said, noting the supplies situated on a picnic table for writing messages. “Make sure you’re spelling words right. There’s no spell check.”
VU students Natasa Petraska and Kalynn Greenwood picked their ribbons and wrote their messages before tying them on the caution tape.
“All right! Our first participants!” Olszewski said before giving a whoop. “I’m so proud of you.”
Petreska, 22, a senior from Schererville, said she wrote, “Don’t worry, be happy,” and added a smiley face. Greenwood, 18, a freshman from Joliet, Ill., went with, “Good times are coming.”
Both heard about the installation from Tomasek, and Greenwood went to Olszewski’s lecture.
“I like that he’s spreading positive messages,” Greenwood said.
So did Tomasek.
“The fact that you can write these positive messages, I like that very much,” she said. “I hope people get it.”