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Look up! CuriousCityTC puts interactive art on buses

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Do you remember the first time you rode on a city bus? Do you remember who you were with? Where you were going? Imagine yourself riding a bus today and asking those questions to the people around you. What would they say?

In a new interactive art project by activist artist Ricardo Levins Morales, he asks all of the above in a series of posters that can be found on Minneapolis city buses. Funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Artist Initiative Grant, Morales is hoping to spur people’s curiosity, not only about themselves but about the people around them.

“I always had it in the back of my mind that buses could be used for a greater benefit than simply selling products,” says Morales, who used much of the grant to pay for advertising space on MetroTransit.

For CuriousCityTC he aimed to take a conversational approach, posing questions that people might respond to, even if it’s with the person they're riding with. “The underlying idea is to encourage curiosity about people’s backstories,” he says. The project is currently on its second poster, which asks people to remember the special food they loved as a child, and where they were and when they last had some. They are asked to ponder how other riders might answer the same question.

For Morales, curiosity about people who are around you, especially in a public space filled with strangers like a city bus, is a basis for connection and solidarity. “When I listen to right wing talk radio, they spend a lot of time telling their white conservative social base not to be curious about people who are different,” Morales says. “We think of people as real when they have a back story.”

In the questions he poses to bus riders, Morales aims to stimulate curiosity, but without being too polarizing. “The questions are innocent enough, but there’s a degree of challenging the status quo,” he says.

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Part of the project relies on people sharing their thoughts on the posters. People can use the hashtag #curiositycitytc to on Twitter, or post Instagram or Facebook answering the questions and sharing memories the posters stir up.

Morales’ feels that the amount of time people spend on their handheld devices prevents them from really seeing or being curious about the people around them. However, at the same time this technology offers an opportunity for the project to gain traction over the internet.

“It would have been a different thing 10 to 15 years ago,” he says. “It’s the best time for [the project] technologically, and the worse time for it socially — nobody looks up.”