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Recycling student talents; Bicycles are the focal point of a new guerrilla art project called 'bheard' that features 10th-graders' works of poetry

A new guerrilla art project has popped up on Main Street, drawing quizzical looks from passers-by and beginning to go viral on Buffalonians' Facebook pages and Instagram accounts.

But the eight brightly painted bicycles chained to sign posts near Ellicott Square aren't the work of some edgy, underground art collective. They're the result of a particularly bold project called "bheard," led by students in the classes of 10th-grade English teacher Stephen Goss.

The temporary public art and poetry project was conceived and executed by about 70 students in Buffalo's Middle Early College High School, based in Ellicott Square. In addition to commanding the attention of pedestrians, the bikes were designed to broadcast students' poetry, snippets of which are scrawled across their seats, frames and handlebars.

The poetry itself is pithy but can be powerful. One bit reads: "Popularity is evil," and another: "Love can kill."
It's all part of an attempt to infuse a little life and real-world excitement into the potentially nap-inducing subject of poetry, according to Middle Early College High School Principal Susan Doyle. And despite its unorthodox nature, it's also practical preparation for a difficult English language arts class students must take during their junior year, of which poetry is a major part.

"What it's done is given us real purpose, real authentic purpose to what we're doing in class," Goss said. "Instead of students reading a poem and then writing an essay about the theme of the poem and the style and literary elements that are in the poem, these students are writing their own poetry, figuring out ways to get it out on the streets, figuring out a guerrilla campaign to kind of get excitement around their writing and then implementing that through action."

Goss said that the project was inspired in part by the work of the widely collected artist Jenny Holzer, who works with small bits of poetic text, and by a similar project promoting bicycle awareness in Toronto.

And this bike project, Goss added, is only the beginning of a summerlong, guerrilla-style public art campaign involving posters, QR codes -- the Rorschach-like images that contain information, much like a barcode -- and yet-to-be determined methods of broadcasting the work of his students to the public.

A film about the "bheard" project, shot and edited by Goss' students, will screen at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center as part of the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education's "City Voices, City Visions" film project.

The students are posting about the project on their own website, bheard.me.

All students at Middle Early College High School, part of the Buffalo Public Schools, are required to take summer school as part of a five-year program that ends with both a high school diploma and an associate degree from Erie Community College. And the bike project, Goss said, plays into the real-world nature of the school's unique educational mission.

"It's really enlivened what we're doing in school in giving them real purpose," Goss said. "They're going to start promoting it on their Facebook pages and their Twitter accounts and their Instagrams. We're just going to see where it goes."

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com