By Deepa Pendse

For The Daily

Despite Ann Arbor’s proximity to Detroit, few students take advantage of the cultural opportunities the city has to offer. The Culture Bus program has been put in place in the hope of changing that.

The Culture Bus – launched in 2001 – is part of the Arts at Michigan initiative, which aims to use art to enhance classroom learning. The program allows students to travel by bus to various museums, restaurants and art exhibits in the metro Detroit area. Since its founding, Culture Bus has grown to involve more than 500 students each semester. The program is not limited to undergraduate students but is open to all University faculty, students and staff. Participants – who pay a nominal fee to participate – receive discounts at the various locations they visit.

Many University faculty members have used the program as a learning tool to complement their classroom instruction. For Latino Studies Prof. Maria Cotera’s “Introduction to Latina/o Studies” course, the Culture Bus trip is a requirement. Cotera said in an e-mail that she incorporated the trip into her course to give her students “a real-world experience of how the arts can foster community ties and increase political and civic engagement.”

The itinerary Cotera created for her students includes a visit to Diego Rivera’s murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts, a walking tour of public art in Detroit, a tour of the Matrix Theater and visits to two galleries in southwest Detroit.

She said the Culture Bus helps her students learn more about the city of Detroit.

“(The culture bus) exposes them to the largest and most well-established Latina/o community in Southeastern Michigan. It demystifies Detroit, a place that few of my students have ventured into and about which they have many misconceptions.”

Since the inception of the Culture Bus program, it has enhanced the learning experience for participants by conducting more tours with faculty members as guides.

The Culture Bus also offers students rare opportunities, such as visits to the temporary exhibit “Behind the Magic: The Influence and Impact of Walt Disney and Disneyland” at Dearborn’s Henry Ford Museum. The trip includes attending a conference on Disney’s legacy and a tour of the exhibit.

Communications Studies lecturer Brad Taylor said he plans to take his “Visual Communications” class on the trip. He said the conference is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” because Marty Sklar, vice chairman and principal creative executive for Disney, will be the keynote speaker.

Not all Culture Bus trips are class requirements. One such trip was last month’s visit to the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. Along with the museum visit, the trip also included a tour through the Arab American neighborhood, dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant and dessert and Turkish coffee at the Sinbad Cafe in Dearborn.

The Culture Bus has grown from initially offering trips only to Detroit to traveling to locations in other parts of Michigan and even other states. The upcoming “Halloween Weekend with the Art of Chicago” tour is the first overnight Culture Bus trip. It includes a tour of the city’s architecture by boat, several museum visits and a viewing of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Nancy Lautenbach, coordinator of marketing and programs for Arts at Michigan, said she wants to allow residence hall advisors to organize customized Culture Bus tours. She said the trips would be a great way for RAs to conduct social activities because they “get to go to shows and museums at very discounted rates.”

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