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Why Art Thou? The story behind those crazy cars

J.R. McMillan

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Cars are commodities mass-produced by the millions. But once they roll off the showroom floor, they take on a life of their own. Each ding or dent tells a story, from original owner to everyone who eventually sits behind the wheel.

But for some, those tales get much more detailed, blurring the line between eclectic transportation and traveling exhibition. They’re called “art cars”, and those who create them are part of a growing movement that is increasingly impossible to ignore.

“All around the world and throughout time, there have been decorated vehicles—from gypsy wagons, or the decorated trucks of Pakistan, to the buses of Haiti,” explained Greg Phelps, who is currently driving his third art car. “But they really didn’t take off in the US until the ’70s when people first started to glue on their cars, turning them into more than just a metal canvas.”

Phelps got his start in 1997 with a Mazda Miata featuring a two-dimensional design, but it wasn’t until a couple years later after a conversation with another local artist that he took his design to the next level.

“Ramona Moon had been gluing on her cars out in San Francisco before moving back to her hometown of Columbus,” he recalled. “That’s when I first realized you could effectively attach elements to your car, and I haven’t stopped since.”

Silicone is the adhesive of choice for many art car creators—flexible enough for daily driving, yet durable enough for regular washing. Phelps plays it safe with an ordinary sprayer for occasional cleaning, but admits it takes a lot longer than you’d think to get the soap out of all of the “nooks and crannies.”

“I have a whole host of things on it, like a mohawk of Barbie legs as a tribute to the synchronized swim team at Ohio State,” he explained. “The mirrors on the rims have survived five years of Ohio winters.”

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Creativity is often contagious, and just as Phelps was inspired decades ago, he too continues to recruit, working with local high school and college students to create their own incarnations. You’ll find a few artfully adorned golf carts zipping around the campus of Ft. Hayes. Collaboration with an OSU sculpture class even led one student to do her Masters thesis on the cultural phenomenon.

“I often tell parents to encourage their new teenage drivers to create one,” he said. “It lets them be rebellious, but remain conspicuous. You can’t drive aggressively or cut people off in an art car.”

Road rage is a foreign concept for those rolling around in vehicles covered in colorful plastic doodads. Smiles are expected at a parade, but even police can’t contain their grins as he putters past. So long as he’s not speeding and nothing falls off, law enforcement pays him no mind.

“I honk and wave whenever I see police officers,” he said. “It’s not like I could get away with robbing a bank in it.”

The quirky creations aren’t just child’s play, though a love of toys and a stash of little pieces and parts doesn’t hurt. Phelps can still spot an easy mark, like Jason Williams, owner of Big Fun, the Short North shop notorious for nostalgia. His unmistakable Volkswagen Vanagon turned Star Trek shuttle craft is as meticulous and mesmerizing as his store.

“I gave him that first tube of glue and a caulking gun as a challenge,” he quipped. “Now his entire roof is this epic history of politics and conflict told through plastic figures.”

There are often lingering misconceptions about the movement, like the idea that owners are simply attention seekers.

“It’s actually the opposite. I want to give people attention,” Phelps noted. “There are few things that can draw strangers together into a shared conversation faster than standing around an art car.”

Given his ideal afterlife, Phelps said he wouldn’t mind his current car becoming part of the collection of local art on display at the Greater Columbus Convention Center—preferably suspended from the wall or ceiling—joining “As We Are”, the giant selfie LED head, as one of the city’s most photographed art installations.

You’d think Phelps would be overly protective of his autodidactic art exhibition, but he’ll still let valets park it, and does so often. He’s found it’s the easiest way to get a prime parking space for curious onlookers and as a popular backdrop for photographers and impromptu portraits.

“Valets always treat it with great care, as if it were an exotic sports car,” he chided. “I get the best spot and people will walk past a Lamborghini to check out my Nissan. I call it ‘carma.’”

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Arts & Culture

Virtual Experiences bring culture to our couch

614Now

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Now that we're all stuck at home for the foreseeable future, we could use some entertainment beyond hours of Netflix bingeing. And yes, Carole probably did it*

WOSU Public Media has come to the rescue by putting together a list of local, virtual experiences to enjoy from the safety and comfort of your bunker. Here's a list of just a few upcoming events ranging from music to the arts.

Sunday, March 29
Columbus Symphony’s Russian Winter Festival – The Columbus Symphony broadcasts its Russian Winter Festival ll concert, featuring masterpieces by Prokofiev, Borodin, Rimski-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky at 1 p.m. on Classical 101.

Columbus Goes Live – The Cyber Festival –  A virtual entertainment experience streaming across different pages to support local performers who are directly impacted by the critical shutdowns of venues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Join in and make history by supporting your favorite bands, comedians and performers in the Columbus area.

Why not a virtual bar?

Brewdog is even getting in on the act with its upcoming, Brewdog Online Bar. They plan to "open" for business at 6pm on Friday, March 27th. The bar plans to feature live beer tastings with our co-founders James and Martin and other beer experts, homebrew masterclasses, live music & comedy and more.

Brewdog will be sharing further details soon and a complete schedule of the events on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

*Carole, as in this Carole.

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Things To Do

8 things to do this week that don’t involve human contact

614now Staff

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It is a strange time to be alive, Columbus. With the concerns and cases of coronavirus on the rise, you may be feeling worried, fearful, and/or unsure of what to do.

In addition to washing your hands to protect you from the virus, you may want to consider being more of an inside person this week. To curb cabin fever, consider these eight activities to keep you occupied indoors.

Plan a getaway

Once the threat of coronavirus is over, which Gov. Mike DeWine assured would happen in yesterday's address, you'll be ready to get the hell out of Columbus. Consider planning a trip to one of the Scarlet Oaks cabins, Gervasi Vineyard in Canton, Yellowsprings, or the birthplace of bourbon!

Schedule a whacky road trip

Already have a vacation on the books and worked into your budget? No problem! Opt for a cheaper, shorter adventure with one of the destinations highlighted in our Worth The Drive series: Buckeye Express Diner in Bellville, Kewpee Hamburgers in Lima, Cincinnati's Hathaway's Diner, Dietsch Brothers chocolate in Findlay, and Waldo’s G&R Tavern.

Test your Columbus knowledge

You're sick of all your board games and you hate the idea of spending another weekend in front of the tube. Liven up your entertainment with Columbus trivia! What is the hottest month on average? What is Hilliard's median household income? What year did the Kahiki close? See how well you know your fine city.

Binge local podcasts

Not only do podcasts entertain, inform, and engage you, they're also great to binge while multitasking. Podcast + mopping the kitchen? No problem. Podcast + walking the dog? Easy. Podcast + julienning veggies? Careful… but definitely possible. Be sure to support local podcasters! We're sure you can find something that'll pique your interest in the list below.

Get hooked on knitting

What better time to dive into your hobby than a worldwide viral outbreak? And though cold weather is almost completely behind us, it's never too early to get a jumpstart on those Christmas gifts. Click the button below to learn more about where to find materials and resources.

Explore the pasta-bilities of a home-cooked meal

You’re probably hungry after all that knitting. Flex on the fam by whipping up a delectable home-cooked Italian meal. You'll have to slip out of the house to grab your groceries from famed local market Carfagna’s, but trust us, it'll be worth it.

Get hyped for Ohio State Buckeyes 2020-21 season

With no spring game to rev your engine pre-season, you may be feeling a Buckeyes football void right about now. To help plug it until the opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 5, check out old Ohio State hype videos below. O-H!

Read the latest issue of (614) Magazine

The physical copies of the March issue of (614) Magazine are flying off the racks, but you don't have to go out into the world to read it. To learn more about the Columbus esport revolution, the latest food and drink news, and other updates in the community, click the button below to read the digital issue.

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Things To Do

Listen Local: 10 Columbus podcasts to binge

Regina Fox

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The thing with binging TV is that you have to be using two senses at once to be engaged: sight and hearing. That really cuts down on the possibilities of getting other things done simultaneously. But, podcasts on the other hand require only one sense—hearing—so the productivity possibilities are exponentially greater.

Podcast + mopping the kitchen? No problem. Podcast + walking the dog? Easy. Podcast + julienning veggies? Careful... but definitely possible.

That, plus the power of spoken word has the ability to inform, entertain, and inspire you unlike any other media.

Now that we've presented a great case for podcasts, consider subscribing to one made right here in Columbus.

The Rock Doc Chronicles

Interviews, Current Events, Entertainment

Being the on-call doctor to some of your favorite musical acts comes with a lot of stories. Dr Randy Sharma (@rockdocohio) sits down with some of his famous patients to discuss whatever comes to mind.

Ohio v. The World

Culture, History, Places & Travel

An Ohio History podcast, hosted by Alex Hastie.

Rogue Squadron Podcast

Culture, Entertainment, Hobbies

Star Wars Comedy, craft beer, gaming, and more. It’s the rowdiest podcast in the galaxy!

Momcast

Culture, Entertainment, Self-Help

Columbus, Ohio moms Mindy Drayer, Mikaela Hunt, and Stacy McKay discuss everything relating to being moms and parenting on weekly installments of the Momcast.

Columbus' Entrepreneurs' Podcast

Business, Entrepreneur

Columbus Entrepreneurs’ Podcast is primarily for members of the Columbus, Ohio chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). The stories are inspiring and focus on core principles of EO, including speaking from experience instead of advice giving, building peer learning experiences, and focusing on the top and bottom 5% of our lives.

Chatimals

Entertainment, Hobbies

Chatimals is the nature podcast where information meets imagination. Each episode covers one kind of animal with an eye out for all the goofy, surprising animal facts.

The Sounds of Bustown

Culture, Entertainment, Music

A bi-weekly podcast featuring interviews about the musical creation process with people in the music scene in Columbus, OH.

Thrive and Connect

Culture, Self-Help

How to live your life in a more genuine, simpler manner and develop abundance in all aspects – yourself, family & friends, and business relationships.

Columbus! Something New

Culture, Entertainment, Places & Travel

Why do we do what we do? Why does C!SN exist?

  • To introduce listeners to local entrepreneurs and big thinkers
  • To be a conduit between community and events, museums, and new experiences
  • To be a value to entrepreneurs as we broadcast them to the world
  • To be a value to listeners as we expand their world and bring them new ideas

The Digital Analytics Power Hour

Business, Technology

Each episode is a closed topic and an open forum – the goal is for listeners to enjoy listening to Michael and Tim share their thoughts and experiences and hopefully take away something to try at work the next day.

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