Dating back to the early 19th century, bicycles have been a preferred method of transportation by many individuals. As the years pass, the aesthetic of the bicycle continues to transform and is beautifully represented in our everyday lives.
When we look outside, we see all types of unique individuals riding bicycles. And each bicycle has its own unique qualities, whether it be an added accessory, a paint job, or just a small addition specific to the taste of its owner. We also see bikes represented in many different artistic forms from fine art to sculpture to photography. But what is the most accessible art form, to represent the most accessible ride?
Charles Youel, Founder and Creative Director of ARTCRANK came up with the idea of combining his love for art and biking in what he believes to be the most accible way possible, posters.
“In 2006, I was working at an advertising agency in Minneapolis as a writer and creative director. As much as I loved getting paid to make stuff up, the projects I was doing weren't really in my wheelhouse, in terms of things that I had a passion for,” he explains. “At the same time, the people that I rode bikes with were all designers and art directors, from my agency and others. And when we were out riding, we'd do what people always do on bike rides — complain about our jobs. So it finally hit me: You know all of these super-talented people who love bikes, love making posters, and are dying to do work they actually care about. Start a bike poster show.”
And so he did it. In less than six months the first ARTCRANK show was held in Minneapolis and they’ve been expanding ever since.
Youel jokes, “If you'd told me back in 2007 that we'd eventually do shows in three countries, I'd still be laughing my head off in padded room, wearing a very tight-fitting jacket.”
Since the start of the show, ARTCRANK has been hosting what they like to call "a poster party for bike people." They recruit a team of local artists in the hosting city and ask them to create handmade posters inspired by bicycles. Then, the show is staged like a pop-up shop, for a limited time, where people can view and buy the posters while sipping on some delicious brews.
During the tour of the show, ARTCRANK chooses a Cause Partner for every host city. The Cause Partners are chosen for many different reasons, but Youel explains, “We try to choose organizations that use cycling or art as a way to create positive change – in our host communities and beyond.” Some previous Cause Partners include: World Bicycle Relief, People for Bikes, LIVESTRONG, Springboard for the Arts, International Mountain Biking Association, and more.
Change and community is often a concern of cyclists, and if consciously chosen or not, the form of green transportation is a positive. It’s interesting to think about the population of cyclists in many cities. Often, I associate urban cyclists with more creative folk, and when I discussed this with Mr. Youel, I asked why he thought ARTCRANK is so popular in the bike community. Do the art and bike communities overlap more often than not? His answer was quite enlightened.
Here in the U.S., there’s been a profound change in the way that people regard bicycles over the past five years or so. I think Americans used to see bikes as something that skinny people in spandex rode for exercise, or to race. Now, a lot more people are riding bikes to get to school or work, to go shopping, to hang out with friends, or just to relax — all the same things we did when were kids. It’s as if we, as a nation, have suddenly remembered that riding a bicycle is just plain fun.
We’ve seen this transformation reflected in the posters that artists create for our shows. There are a lot more posters inspired by everyday cycling, and the simple pleasure of seeing the world on a bike. Just seeing someone riding a bicycle on a busy city street can make people think, “I want to do that.” I believe that art about bikes can inspire people in the same way.
There is an art to riding a bicycle, the rhythm of your pedals, the dodging and cruising. It’s easy to get lost within it. A therapeutic value exists, from the peaceful ride around town, to an intensive race. And it’s a similar feeling to getting lost in one’s art. It can be strenuous, it can be thought provoking, but it is also a high that can only be reached by someone that truly loves doing it.
When Youel explained that the audience at the events started to approach a 50/50 split of artists and cycling enthusiasts, it completely made sense to me. And similarly, Youel’s favorite part of ARTCRANK is recognizing that comparable relationship. “My favorite moment in every show is standing in a room full of people who might have nothing else in common, and watching them realize that they share an appreciation for the same thing.”