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Why did a local bus in Amherst, Massachusetts get transformed by two painters from Pakistan?

The UMass Civic Initiative's international work leads to local project

One of UMass Donahue Institute’s groups, the UMass Civic Initiative, has been working internationally for years with college students, college faculty and young professionals. Their educational programs are funded by the U.S. Department of State and have focused on many topics including public policy, political thought, and entrepreneurship. Since 2010, they’ve served Pakistanis both in the U.S. and across Pakistan. During a 2014 business trip to Karachi, Civic Initiative Director Mike Hannahan and Program Manager Becky Howland were introduced to Phool Patti a “truck art” group. Together, they painted a mural at a local Pakistan cultural center. In 2017, Ms. Howland and the Institute’s Marketing Communications Manager Ken LeBlond visited Karachi for an education conference. While there, they helped paint a tanker truck with Phool Patti.

While primarily a commercial operation that paints trucks, buses and other Pakistan vehicles in the distinct “truck art” style, Phool Patti has also traveled the world spreading a cultural message of peace and understanding through their art. In just 2017 and 2018, they painted commissioned pieces in Kazakhstan (representing their country at the World Expo), China, Bulgaria and several cities in Germany.

In June 2018, Phool Patti CEO Ali Salman Anchan and Head Artist Haider Ali came to Amherst, Massachusetts at the invitation of the Institute. Their “canvas” this time was a bus owned by the Amherst Business Improvement District (BID). Mr. LeBlond reached out to the BID and the bus was offered as a platform to not only introduce Americans to a softer side of Pakistan but to also add some color to the historic downtown. The bus, designed to look like the trolleys that traveled the streets of Amherst 100 years ago, is used to transport people for free between the UMass Amherst campus and downtown Amherst.

After about 50 hours of freehand painting by Anchan and Ali, the once maroon and white bus became a boldly colored (and mobile) mural that combined colorful interpretations of iconic Pakistani animals and places along with American imagery.

The artists were also able to share their message of cultural diplomacy while in Amherst. During the final phase of painting the bus was parked at the annual Taste of Amherst festival. The artists met dozens of interested onlookers, many of whom were experiencing truck art for the first time. In addition, many Pakistani-Americans also came to see the bus and get in touch with their heritage after reading about the project in the local news. Anchan and Ali were also guest speakers to this summer's international groups, led by the Civic Initiative.

During their 2018 U.S. tour, they will also visit Boston, Rhode Island, New York, Washington DC, Chicago and Texas.


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