Carrie Boucher, founder of the nonprofit NOMAD Studio, a mobile art project, inside her art bus.
SEMINOLE – Artist Carrie Boucher always dreamed of owning a traveling art studio on a bus.
Always a bit of a nomad, in her mind she’d wander the country while creating her art. Each day she’d wake up in a new city; each day she’d sell her work on the side of the road to make ends meet.
These days, the project has become a reality. But the NOMAD Studio – that stands for Neighborhood-Oriented Mobile Art & Design Studio – has taken on a much larger scope and focuses more on the community’s needs than her own. Now, Boucher’s goal is to take her mobile art studio concept into community events throughout not just the Tampa Bay region, but the entire state, and to provide art projects and lessons for everyone, no matter the age or skill level, along the way.
“This is not my project is the way I look at it,” she said. “There was a point early on where I thought it was my project. But it became apparent to me as I started talking to people about it that it’s a lot bigger than me.”
Boucher, a 1992 Seminole High School graduate, attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and spent a decade in the Windy City. She worked as a metalsmith, and also designed windows and did product photography for a small downtown boutique.
Then about three years ago she was ready to make more of an impact on a community, and realized coming home to Pinellas County was the best way to do that.
“When you’re in Chicago or a big city you can make an impact, but it’s hard to do,” she said. “So I felt like I wanted to return to my roots and see what was going on here and hopefully bring back some of what I’ve learned in the arts.”
But she wasn’t initially sure where this impact would be made.
Eventually after returning home, she found herself teaching art to elementary school students at Plato Academy, a charter school in Seminole. This became the inspiration for NOMAD.
While she was afforded some flexibility with lesson plans and projects for students, she found there was never enough time for the arts. Students would often be pulled from her class for myriad reasons – special events, FCAT training, sports.
“I felt like the amount of time we had to teach art was really short,” Boucher said. “Whenever they were told it was time to clean up, they were like, ‘Aw, I don’t want to clean up yet.’ It was the only time they didn’t listen to me. They always wanted more art time.”
Frustrated, she came up with the concept for NOMAD.
“I love art,” she said, “and nobody should be pulled out of art and everybody should have access to art.”
Initially, she thought she’d simply offer private lessons on an art studio bus.
“But by doing strictly paid lessons on a bus, you’re eliminating a huge demographic of people who couldn’t afford lessons,” she said.
So she decided to create NOMAD as a nonprofit organization, one that would be subsidized by donations and merchandise sales. Then she could take the bus anywhere she was needed in the community.
The Perry family, which owns a series of Pit Stop Auto Repair shops in and around Venice, heard of Boucher’s plan and contacted her. They had a bus on site to donate to her cause and would also provide free labor to get the vehicle up and running.
For months Boucher and her volunteers would travel to Venice to work on the bus’ interior, getting it ready for public use with a long drawing table and seating.
Even though it’s far from ready, she said, the bus debuted at the Gasparilla Arts Festival at Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Park last month.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better place to debut at, though,” Boucher said.
She let those stopping by the bus contribute to its mural, since it was basically a giant whiteboard at that point and hadn’t been painted yet. Children took crayons and drew all over the bus. On the bus, she offered guided art projects but also allowed kids to run with their inspiration.
NOMAD saw hundreds of kids creating art on the bus that weekend, she said. “It was incredible.”
Her work on the bus isn’t done, though. Because it sat for several years, much of the original floor was rotting, so currently the floor is temporarily a covered 3/4” piece of plywood. The generator isn’t working, so that’s going to take some troubleshooting, she said. And once it is running, she needs to have an electrician give her the OK that the bus’ electrical system is safe to use. Then she’ll tackle the air conditioning system, which is important as summer months approach. She’d also like to install a sink for clean-up and get the wheelchair lift working again.
“That way it can be truly accessible to everyone,” she said.
Before getting this first bus, Boucher envisioned a whole fleet of busses, flooding the area with art. But she didn’t realize how much work renovating one bus for the project would take.
“I still love that idea,” she said. “But for right now I want to get this bus done.”
Even while work on the bus is being completed, it can be found every Thursday evening at the Edge Farmer’s Market in St. Pete.
And Boucher is building up her team of volunteers and is also seeking donations for the bus.
People can either purchase a NOMAD Studio T-shirt for $20 or donate directly to the project on PayPal.com by sending it to donate@no
“The way art, and even music and things like that, are being defunded in public schools, we need to decide for ourselves if the arts are important to us,” Boucher said. “And if they are, then it’s our responsibility as a community to come together and teach art in an effective way. I’ll do as much as I can to make it happen. But I can’t do it on my own.”