LA PAZ – The market vendors, bricklayers, students and office workers who ride the small buses – known as micros – that are the backbone of public transportation in Bolivia can enliven their commute by taking in the exhibits on a mobile gallery which debuted this year on the streets of La Paz.
The “Micro Galeria” is an initiative of the Photo Space Bolivia artists collective and the vehicle’s owner, 27-year-old Luis Aguilar, a member of the San Cristobal guild that serves working-class areas in La Paz and neighboring El Alto.
“Art has to reach people beyond the four walls of a gallery,” Photo Space Bolivia director Mauricio Aguilar told EFE. “Art is for everybody.”
The vehicle chosen for the project is the “Super Menesito,” a 1978 Dodge that has been carrying passengers for 42 years, the last eight of them with Luis behind the wheel.
The bus has three rows of individual seats and a bench at the rear with room for five people. The photographs are displayed above the windows in illuminated niches covered by acrylic glass.
Luis Aguilar said that the idea emerged a year ago, when Photo Space Bolivia hired San Cristobal to take its members on a tour of the best vantage points in La Paz.
Afterwards, it occurred to the participants to display on the bus the most striking images captured on the tour and Luis and Mauricio began work on what would become the Micro Galeria.
The plan was for the Micro Galeria to hit the road in March, but the COVID-19 pandemic intervened and the launch was delayed to October.
Passengers, especially children, have reacted positively, Luis Aguilar said proudly.
The only resistance has come from some of his colleagues in San Cristobal, who say that the changes he made to accommodate the photographs reduced profitability.
“What’s most important are the passengers, those we are trying to reach,” Luis said, adding that he hopes other drivers will join the initiative, which he sees as a way to improve the image of public transportation.
While many people look down on micros as “old and unsafe vehicles,” Luis Aguilar points out that students and poorly paid workers depend on them for affordable transportation.
The fare is 1.50 bolivianos (about 21 cents) in a nation where the minimum monthly wage is the equivalent of $307.
If other operators turn their vehicles into galleries on wheels, the sector could “show another face of transportation in micros,” he says.
The display space in the Micro Galeria is open to all “emerging” photographers and the exhibits change every month, Mauricio Aguilar said.
Now showing aboard the bus is an exposition dedicated to Bolivia’s wildlife, featuring images from biologist and photographer Gabriela Villanueva.
Given that Luis Aguilar transports around 150-200 people a day, he and Mauricio estimate that the Micro Galeria is reaching a much larger and broader public than conventional museums and galleries.
“It is a way of popularizing art, photography, wildlife and showing them to people who don’t have the time or the money to go to a gallery,” Mauricio Aguilar said.