HOUSTON (AP) — Since June, Christopher Sperandio has been ripping seats out of an 11-year-old shuttle bus.
Pulling panels from interior walls.
Replumbing the cooling system, removing carpet and plywood from the floor.
With the help of power tools and a few volunteers, Sperandio is turning an old gray bus into a house on wheels.
A rolling artists' residency, really.
Sperandio, an assistant professor in Rice University's visual and dramatic arts department, is building a mobile place for minds to meet. Now that the bus is stripped, he'll put in a kitchen, a shower and some bunk beds. Then — starting this summer — he'll find interesting people in the arts, maybe even the sciences, and invite them to travel together in his homemade RV.
Sperandio figures a handful of people can have good discussions over simple homemade meals. Travel to different communities and share their work with others. Or just take some time — while they're on the road and off the grid — to think and do creative work.
"I would like to see more artists come to Houston," he said. "The problem with bringing people here is, where do you put them?"
He'd been interested in the DIY movement and had read about people who convert old school buses into custom mobile homes. That's when it hit him: He could convert a bus and invite artists to spend time on it.
"There is no mobile arts residency in the world," Sperandio said. "So it just seemed like a really good idea."
With a $7,000 grant from the university's Humanities Research Center, Sperandio bought an old Rice campus shuttle bus, a 2002 Blue Bird with a diesel engine and 120,000 miles. He named the project Cargo Space and set up a blog to track the progress (www.thecargospace.com).
The cabin is nearly 21 feet long and 7½ feet wide. At the front, Sperandio plans to put in a kitchenette and a table for meals and conversation. Just behind that, the team will install a small lavatory with a shower. Four bunks will fill the back end.
An architect has volunteered to design a roof rack that will double as a deck. Sperandio wants to attach a moped to the rear to allow quick trips away from the bus for groceries or supplies.
When it's road-ready, Cargo Space will accommodate six people for short drives, four on longer trips.
"We'll be cooking dinner together," Sperandio said. "People can think and talk and work."
Sperandio imagines road trips to Big Bend or Yellowstone National Park. He pictures a journey to California that allows an anthropologist to study urban planning in Los Angeles — with a stop in the desert, perhaps, to show a filmmaker's movie on the side of the bus.
The trips won't all be long. In fact, Cargo Space will likely spend a lot of time tooling around town, stopping in places such Spring and Sugar Land. Sperandio wants to bring the arts to areas that are far from the museum district.
"Houston is big — it spreads out there," he said. "It could be as interesting to go to a different part of Houston as it would be to go to Mexico or Canada."
For now, though, the project is all logistics and labor. Volunteers show up to help when they can, mostly on weekends. Some Rice students will earn an hour of course credit for their work.
Ali Naghdali was an early volunteer. The 2010 Rice School of Architecture graduate now works for a Houston architecture firm.
"I've learned in school that a lot of your projects and thoughts, in order for them to become realized, they have to incubate," Naghdali said. "I can't think of a better place to do it than on a road trip."
The chance to spend time with people in other disciplines - artists, anthropologists, architects, academics - "is beneficial to every person on the bus," Naghdali said. "It's sort of a way to create a conversation that's multidisciplinary and related to art at the same time."
No funding has been lined up to keep Cargo Space on the road. Sperandio hopes a corporate sponsor might step in to fund the artists' travels, especially because it's designed to bring artists and ideas to Houston — and to export them across the country.
"I've had such terrific experience at artists' residencies," he said, adding that he spent the summer of 2011 at a residency called the Poor Farm in Wyoming. "Part of my interest in doing this is to directly interact with more artists."
Sperandio hopes to have the bus ready for travel by summer. He'll do a few test trips with his team of volunteers, just to make sure everything works. Then he'll start inviting artists to join him on the open road.
When it's ready, Cargo Space "can have thousands of uses," he said. "As many uses as people who'd be willing to get on and go someplace."
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com