The ideal of government programs built to strengthen communities and help those in need may be noble, but let's face it: Considering the recent slaughtering of budgets, who wants to rely on government alone to strengthen our communities? In fact, government is the very thing that has splintered Arizona and created a negative image that seems impossible to shake.
Enter BICAS, a Tucson nonprofit that has managed to survive for more than 20 years on the goodwill and mobilization of its community.
BICAS will be holding its 15th Annual Art Auction and Celebration, a fundraiser for parts and equipment that cannot be obtained through salvage, and for building maintenance and labor costs. According to Casey Wollschlaeger, the art director for BICAS, the event usually raises about 10 to 12 percent of the organization's funding for the entire year.
"It's a huge social gathering event," said Wollschlaeger. "It's a great way to get people introduced to BICAS."
The arts department has played a large role in the progression of BICAS. It has waxed and waned over the years, but Wollschlaeger is working to make it a larger, more constant part of the bustling, vibrant basement space, hidden away on Sixth Street.
"There has always been an art element to BICAS," she explained. "But there's a new commitment. My goal with it is to make sure people know we have this space available to them. It's open every day except Monday, and you can come in and use it for free."
Eventually, Wollschlaeger would like to spin off the arts efforts so that the arts budget doesn't come from the bike shop. She hopes to mimic the BICAS work-trade program that is currently in place for bike maintenance, and ask for a few dollars per hour—or, for those who don't have the money, a few hours of pitching in around the shop—to use the art space.
Wollschlaeger supports the theory that art has played a major role at BICAS.
"It's another form of advocacy. It's allowing people to see bikes as art and as functional objects," said Wollschlaeger. "It creates a positive association with bicycles: seeing them as art instead of just transportation, but also seeing them as art and thinking, 'Maybe I should use this as transportation.' It's infectious."
Wollschlaeger believes that it all ties back into the BICAS philosophy that bikes can act as vehicles of social-justice work, by giving people the opportunity to have a cost-efficient and reliable mode of transportation while also teaching a skill set that will allow them to maintain it.
"It's a more approachable, accessible way of traveling. It's free transportation that's faster than walking," said Wollschlaeger.
Skilled artists and welders have been working diligently to create a fresh batch of art for this year's auction.
"What's interesting for me is coming up with something new every year, and seeing what other people come up with," says artist Troy Neiman. "It's fascinating that this is the 15th year of bike-related art work, having 200 to 400 pieces every year, and there's still new stuff every time."
Neiman, a transplant from Wisconsin, has been creating art for BICAS for more than seven years. His pieces range from purely aesthetic works to functioning furniture and kinetic marble machines—all primarily made of bike parts. When Neiman considered moving to Tucson, the bike racks on Fourth Avenue, created by BICAS artists, were an inspiration to make Tucson his home, he said.
Neiman created one of this year's most outstanding pieces, a 100-pound chicken statue created from recycled bike derailers.
Contributions have also been made by local artist Kenneth Armstrong and by UA community-art-class attendees.
The BICAS 15th Annual Art Auction and Fundraiser takes place over two nights at the Old Market Inn, 403 N. Sixth Ave. On Saturday, Dec. 4, from 7 to 10 p.m., people can view the art and partake in live entertainment by the Rosano Brothers, Bradford Trojan and Balkan Spirit. The main event will be on Sunday, Dec. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m., featuring Bike A Stra—an orchestra of artists playing instruments created from salvaged bike parts, with DJ Carl Hanni and a puppet show. The B Line and Small Planet will be catering the auction, with donated food and drinks for attendees. There will also be merchandizing tables with wallets, bottle- openers, T-shirts and posters for those who do not wish to bid on the art. The event is free. Call 628-7950, or visit bicas.org for more information.