You may have noticed the brightly painted bike racks installed in front of a growing number of businesses in St. Louis — including Olio, the Soulard Market and the Moto Museum. But while each rack is unique, they have a common origin: They were created by young artists from under-privileged backgrounds who learned to design and build custom racks using discarded bicycle parts.
St. Louis ArtWorks' BoomerRacks is a six-week summer program that allows companies to commission a unique bike rack. They meet with teenage apprentices to discuss their needs, and the apprentices then work with the program's teaching artists to make that vision a reality. They sketch out the bike rack and create maquettes, or small models, to showcase to the clients.
Once approved, the apprentices help create the bike rack by taking apart donated bikes and using the parts as the basis for the rack. These parts are welded, painted and power-coated — ultimately resulting in a one-of-a-kind rack.
“Not only is it a functional bike rack, but it’s a work of art,” says St. Louis ArtWorks Executive Director Priscilla Block. “Each one is unique and designed for each individual client. There are no two exactly the same.”
This program has been around since 2008, and has led to 25 racks on the streets of St. Louis and neighboring cities.
St. Louis ArtWorks uses art to teach life and job skills to underserved students ages fourteen to nineteen. The BoomerRacks program, for example, requires youth to work with clients and help deliver the vision set by companies, says Teaching Artist Deborah Wheeler.
“It’s very important that they learn professionalism, how to conduct themselves in a meeting, and how to go from that step from a teenager to an adult,” Wheeler says.
A sculptor, Wheeler has worked with St. Louis ArtWorks every summer for ten years and currently serves as the BoomerRacks program’s head teaching artist.
“Every year, it’s a new batch of young teenagers and they really grow in that six-week program,” Wheeler says. “If they already have a passion for art, it just further ignites that passion, and if they didn’t before, then usually they walk out knowing that they can do things and they have more self-confidence.”
Wheeler loves seeing the students discover skills they didn't know they had. “When they create something, there’s that sparkle in their eyes,” Wheeler says. She still keeps in touch with former apprentices.
The youth who participate in this program sharpen more than just their art skills. It helps them learn how to function in a professional environment, build better resumes and gain confidence with public speaking. They are paid a stipend for their work. “We’re very proud of the skills our youth learn," Block says. "We’ve always known that they are creative and intelligent, and they just deserve an opportunity to use that creativity and intelligence in design."
Reaction from businesses that have commissioned these racks, too, has been positive. The costs of the racks vary based on factors such as size and type of organization involved. They can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000.
“I think that they’re really happy that the money they’ve spent has . . . not only gave them a bike rack, but it has supported jobs for teenagers,” Block says.
Anyone who would like to commission a BoomerRack for their business can contact St. Louis ArtWorks by phone at (314) 899-9743 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.