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Tacoma Art Bus 5-Year Anniversary Tour

Looks like the wheels will keep turning ...

Tacoma Art Bus founder Angela Jossy celebrates her five-year anniversary March 19. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round, all through the town. ...

Whether you find that song a childhood travel mantra or an invasive earworm, there's one thing that rings true: There is an actual bus, of the most wonderful kind, that has been winding its way around the streets and in and out of the nooks and crannies of Tacoma, delighting riders with an up-close and in-depth look at the city's vibrant art scene, for five years as of this month.

Wheels going 'round, indeed.

That's something to sing about (and it's party worthy, too).

The iconic Tacoma Art Bus tour, hosted by Duchess of Downtown Tours, is a guided tour that runs on the third Thursday of the month. The evening tour visits various art exhibits throughout Tacoma, and celebrity tour guides, games, prizes, swag and good eats are signatures of the trip.

Thursday, March 19, the 5-year birthday tour kicks into high gear with a special celebration. Enjoy an array of stops, games, prizes and the mouthwatering pizza dinner goodness from Puget Sound Pizza.

Wheels roll promptly at 6 p.m.

The tour is expected to sell out.

And no one could be more excited about this special tour than Art Bus founder, producer and the Duchess of Downtown herself, Angela Jossy. It's been an amazing 5-year ride and one she looks back on with pride and reflection.

"Back in 2009, when I moved from Lakewood to downtown Tacoma, I started Speakeasy Arts Cooperative, and we wanted to have (Tacoma Third Thursday) Art Walk parties like the other galleries," Jossy said. "What we were hearing on the street was that people were confused about where to go during Art Walk and that it was not really a walkable event because the participating galleries were so far apart.

"Because of my experience with festival planning, I knew about renting shuttles, so I said, ‘How hard can it be to just put together a bus tour of art walk galleries?' I reached out to some of the other galleries and asked them if they would be willing to split the cost of renting the bus if I put together and advertised the tour, and many of them said yes."

So it began.

And while galleries have come and gone (including the Speakeasy), the Art Bus tradition has carried on and grown by leaps and bounds. Jossy loves each and every experience, and it never grows old. One of the big reasons? She and her team have brought some real innovations on board that make the tour shine.

>>> Art Chantry chats with Tacoma Art Bus riders during his art show at Fulcrum Gallery on Hilltop Tacoma. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

"Along the way, we added things to make the tour more attractive to customers," she explained. "For example, we brought on Puget Sound Pizza as a sponsor, and now everyone on board gets free dinner. We also added celebrity tour guides. We've been very lucky to have all sorts of local celebrities on board."

Lucky indeed. Some of the celebrity tour guides have included John Keister (The 206 and Almost Live); Elisa Jaffe (KOMO 4 News); Rich Marriott (KING 5 News); Saint Bryan (Evening Magazine); Vern Fonk (actor from the notorious commercials); and Tacoma's very own Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Several city council members, state representatives, local business leaders and local musicians round out the list.

>>> Brick House Gallery in downtown Tacoma has been a longtime Tacoma Art Bus supporter, as well as always has the best nibbles and drinkies on the tour. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Does Jossy have a favorite guide? She says she doesn't.

"I love them all," she said. "Seriously, each one brings a different vibe to the tour, and I have learned from all of them. It's my privilege to be able to sit across from them for two to three hours getting to know them and hearing their perspectives about Tacoma."

And speaking of Tacoma, what about those locally flavored goodies and games?

Patrons can upgrade to a "VIP rider" and get a loaded "swag bag" full of gifts from local businesses (note: as an Art Bus rider myself, I have been known to guard the VIP bag with my life; it's really that cool). Games, prizes (to the tune of up to six prizes an hour) and raffles whip tour participants into an absolute lather. Why? Here are just some of the prizes: spa treatments, concert tickets, hotel stays, art pieces, restaurant gift certificates and much more.  

"We practically bribe people to come with us and see the work of our local artists," Jossy said with a laugh. "If you can find a better ticket value, I don't know where that is!"

Clearly, the tour resonates, and feedback has been really positive. Jossy always appreciates the reactions.

"People are always surprised and delighted by their experience on the tours," she said. "Every single time, I overhear someone saying, ‘Wow! I never even knew this place was here!' That's why we keep doing it."

>>> Singer Kim Archer performed during her tour guide duties on the Tacoma Art Bus. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Here's something interesting to consider: with 75 percent of riders local, folks are really learning more about their own backyard, much to their delight.

But what about those out-of-towners who could use a little Tacoma art scene magic? Today, advertising and promotion for the tour is done primarily through social media and word of mouth. According to Jossy, the budget hasn't been there to expand the reach. Yet.

So what does the future hold for the Art Bus and the Duchess of Downtown Tours?

Things are constantly evolving, so Jossy looks to the future with flexibility, energy and ideas. She is teaming up with Go Local Tacoma to put together an innovative marketing club and tour potential for local businesses. The 420 Cannabis Tour, a fascinating tour that combines education and art about all things cannabis, is happening April 20. Jossy would also love to do a craft beer tour soon.

Looks like the wheels just keep turning.

To learn more about the Art Bus 5-Year Anniversary Tour and other Duchess of Downtown tours and projects, visit or find them on Facebook.

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