If rockstars can have tour buses, so can visual artists. Cargo Space, the brainchild of Christopher Sperandio, an assistant professor in the Rice University Visual and Dramatic Arts Department, and Simon Grennan, who Sperandio has worked with since 1989, is a Rice inner-loop bus turned mobile arts phenomenon.

With teeth, eyes and cartoon designs plastering its exterior, the converted diesel bus looks like any other hippie platform on the outside. But instead of old guitars, smoke and Bob Marley posters, the inside boasts up to five visual artists at any given time. 

“Cargo Space itself is a living space, but it’s a lot of other things too,” Sperandio said. “It’s an experiment in alternate living schemes.”

For the past month and a half, Cargo Space has been touring the Midwest, spanning the 90 miles between the cities of Chicago and Milwaukee. In addition to transporting art back and forth between the cities, Cargo Space engages artists at both the Institute of Visual Arts in Milwaukee and the A+D Gallery in Chicago. 

“They are distinct cities with distinct histories, yet they don’t interact as much as you think they would,” Sperandio said. “I thought it would be interesting for the artists to play host to each other and develop exhibitions simultaneously.”

Although its exhibitions encompass strictly visual art, Cargo Space is anything but your run-of-the-mill gallery. Sperandio said current projects range from an underground poker tournament, whose champion donates all of his winnings to an artist, to a weekly tea party to a bulletin board that, according to Sperandio, resembles a pushpin collage. 

Cargo Space is many experiments, but its larger purpose is to connect artists and provide them with residency, an important key to success in today’s art world, according to Sperandio. 

“A big part of being an artist now is involving yourself in these residencies,” Sperandio said. “I wanted to develop my own facility where I could invite artists to come and spend time with me, to connect with artists across the county.”

Sperandio said the trip for such a unique artistic experiment has not been an easy one, but its success over the past year assures its vitality. 

“I know that sounds maybe a little ego-maniacal, but it’s a very good artwork,” Sperando said. 

“And it’s [been] a very difficult project – from generating enthusiasm and support, to just the little day to day physical work that has to be done on the bus in order to make it what it is.”

But his work has not gone unnoticed and, in addition to being embraced by formal art institutions across the country, Sperandio said his project is also a “selfie magnet.”

When its Midwest exhibition ends on Sept. 20, Cargo Space will pack its bags and return to Houston to begin another journey. 

“I’m going to be on the road for another three weeks or so, and then I’ll be back in Houston with a lot of stories to tell,” Sperandio said. 

Cargo Space’s near future is still undecided, but Sperandio said he hopes to send it south. 

“We’re next door neighbors to a foreign country,” Sperandio said. “I would love to take the bus to Mexico City. That would be the next great step for the project.”