Ami Hill’s bright, beachy school bus and ‘merry band of makers’ bring artists and community together
By Kip Tabb | Correspondent
Ami Hill’s Muse OBX bus is parked outside Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint in Kill Devil Hills. The bus is either pink or coral, depending on who’s describing the color. But either way, it’s bright, eye-catching and cannot be missed.
Back in 1998 when it was new, it was a Thomas School Bus, but now the seats are gone, the back door opens to a set of stairs and the inside is filled with art of every description.
In the backyard of Jack Brown’s, usually filled with folks listening to music while enjoying a beer and burger, there are at least a dozen tents set up, the tops poking over the top of the fence and in every tent there is a different artist and different idea.
Buffy Marie Turner, has been setting up a tent when the Muse OBX bus comes calling for almost two years now. Her Ginger Gypsea OBX tent is filled with an eclectic blend of her art.
“I’ve always made jewelry and then painting and just a little bit of media, recycled art, things like that. It’s something I’ve always had a passion for,” she said.
Under those tents there is a striking range of ideas. There are cupcake creations; Carolina Hemp Supply is on hand. They grow their own hemp and produce their own CBD products. There’s jewelry, paintings, soaps and candles, and even hand-crafted wooden cutting boards.
It has all the feel of a street fair.
That’s a far cry from where Hill was two years ago as COVID changed everything. She had a store— Muse Originals OBX next door to Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk. Her idea was that she would have some original art but largely feature what Outer Banks artists were creating.
But when the Outer Banks closed down in March of 2020, it was clear that a store was not going to be viable for some time. Her landlord was hoping to sell the building so she was able to get out of her lease, and without a permanent home, she started thinking if there was another way to move her concept forward of working with local artists.
That’s where the idea of the school bus came about. Is it expensive? It does have its expenses. However, as she points out, “It’s still cheaper than brick and mortar. But it also marks you as very different. Nobody’s doing what you’re doing.”
“I’m excited,” she added. “I’m moving into my third season with the bus just as I was with the store in 2020. But I’m more excited now than I was then.”
Over the past two years what Hill has created is a place for artists with an incredible variety of experiences. Some of them are brand new to the world of showing their art, and working with them is one of the most rewarding parts of the Muse OBX idea.
“A lot of artists that come out with me are new to the scene and they’re just getting started,” she said. “Other markets might not necessarily let them (in) because they’re new, but I enjoy having them out there and watching them grow.”
For other artists, it’s a way to let the Outer Banks know about their art. That was the case for Turner when she moved from Virginia a few years ago.
“I moved down here. I was trying to get into the art scene and was having a lot of difficulty finding anybody accepting new vendors,” she said. “I saw her on Facebook with this awesome pink bus and so she was setting up down at the Rundown (Cafe). I texted her and said, ‘Can I join you?’… I showed up. And we sat in that field at the Rundown Cafe talking about what it could be.”
What it has become is something Hill and Turner hoped it would—a place for artists to grow and thrive.
“We’ve been pounding the doors, we send emails, tapping every resource we can, inviting people. A lot of our vendors started with us. Now they’re seasoned professionals,” Turner said.
Like any successful business owner, Hill is thinking about what could be next. She admits she’s not quite there yet, but she would like to see an even larger gathering bringing the Outer Banks community together with local artists.
“What we’d love to do is set up maybe two or three large events a year. Work towards it with one for the first year. What I’d really love to do is something like a local beer and wine and art festival,” she said.
Right now that is certainly in the future. But her coral—or pink—bus has become a place for artists and the residents and visitors to gather as she had hoped with her store and what followed. Her Muse OBX bus has turned out to be something recognized and greeted as part of the Outer Banks community, a phenomenon she has noticed when she drives her bus almost anywhere.
“People finally are getting what I’m doing—that big thing. I get people throwing peace signs from people I don’t even know. It’s fun,” she said.