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It started as a non-profit to encourage cycling. Today BICAS is much more – including a breeding ground for accidental artists.
It began as a pot luck with just a handful of donations to sell, and today it’s a two-day party attracting 1500 people and selling between 300 and 400 donated pieces of art.
But the difference between this art auction and others is that every piece is related to the bicycle. Paintings and photographs with cycling themes mix with sculptures, furniture and ornaments made out of bicycle parts.
Car seats are turned into steer head skulls. Gears are turned into votive candleholders. Derailleurs are welded together to form the spines of a praying mantis. Book ends are made out of chain rings, belts from inner tubes. A Schwinn wheel is covered in glass and propped up with pieces of frames and chain rings to make a table. Hundreds of wheel spokes form the silvery spines of a sculpture of a javalina.
When crowds gather again this weekend for the 17th annual BICAS silent art auction, there will be bike lovers and art lovers among them – and in many cases both. If cycling is a sustainable mode of transport, a healthy way of life, a joy, it’s also – thanks to this auction – an art form.
Part of the function of Bicycle Inter-Community Art & Salvage, a non-profit now in its 23rd year, is to encourage art out of recycling. A corner of the basement warehouse BICAS occupies is set aside for art classes. There are two gallery areas, displaying and selling art.
The rest of the space is a workshop dedicated to giving the public affordable access to cycling: teaching them about bicycle repair and recycling, running classes on bike maintenance, bike building and touring with bikes, offering free flat tire repair, and selling bicycle parts – most of them recycled, from bikes donated to them.
Tools are on hand, as is the wisdom of the staff. Those who can’t afford the $4 an hour or $12 a day fee to use its tools and work in the space can earn credit through working there. One hour of helping out – from sweeping up to stripping down old bikes – earns you $8 in credit.
Colin Holmes wasn’t looking to be an artist. His degree is in computer science, and that’s what he brings to BICAS, where he oversees the website. But it didn’t take long for this part-time software developer to tap into a more creative side of himself, one that took him back to his childhood as the son of an art teacher who encouraged him to do art projects all the time.
“Working here I got really excited about it. I learned welding,” says Colin. Like other members of staff at BICAS, he has made art a big part of his life. “I like making functional stuff – coat racks and shelves and dog bowls.”
Troy Neiman had worked in welding and also done a little high school dabbling in ceramics when he stopped off in Tucson with a friend 10 years ago to visit the Gem & Mineral Show. Troy never left. He started volunteering at BICAS and now works there 20 to 30 hours a week, as well as doing metal work and working for the Tucson Museum of Art.
Along the way he, too, became an artist. One of his auction offerings this weekend will be the wheel-spoke javalina. Past creations have included a sculpture of a chicken made out of about 200 front derailleurs.
BICAS exists almost despite itself. Troy admits it was near-bankrupt when he arrived. He has helped to grow it into a place that employs 15 part-time staff and is open six days a week. In keeping with the spirit of the whole BICAS operation, Troy is self-effacing and diplomatic. This isn’t a place where you will hear the words ‘director’ or ‘head’. “I’m the shop coordinator,” he says when asked his job title. “This is run as a collective.”
Only now, after more than two decades, is BICAS getting around to development, putting together a database and considering potential cash donors. “We don’t do the hard ask and we should,” says Troy. “There’s potential there and we haven’t really used it.”
Its first plan is to raise funds for a secure roof over its head, says Troy. The building it rents, at the bottom of the Citizens’ Warehouse at Stone and 6th Avenue, has been slated for demolition for decades. “We need to be ready to purchase it or have a plan if the building is getting torn down,” he says.
Meantime, the art auction remains as the non-profit’s only fundraiser, one that brings in between $10,000 and $12,000 in sales.
Another of the staff members who will be selling art this weekend is Kylie Walzak, education and outreach coordinator since 2009. “I don’t consider myself an artist per se, but in my short time at BICAS I have been incredibly inspired by the creative minds at the organization,” she says.
Kylie believes BICAS has outgrown its space. Since 2008 – when gas prices hit a record high – there’s been a surge of interest in bicycles as transportation in Tucson, and also in BICAS, she says. “We are ready as an organization to move out of the basement and into the mainstream. I think this is reflective of the bicycle movement in general. The bicycle is finally becoming more accepted as a form of transportation, not just recreation or pastime for kids.”
* You can check out the art auction at the Whistle Stop Depot,127 W. 5th St., (southeast corner of W. 5th St. and N. 10th Ave.) this Sunday, December 2nd from 6 to 9 pm. There will be a party and sneak preview on Saturday from 6 to 10pm. Both nights will feature live music, entertainment and refreshments and are free and open to the public. Donations are gladly accepted. For more information visit www.bicas.org