Q&A: Cultural Trust license plate artist Liza Mana Burns is on the bus

Liza Mana Burns has incorporated 127 Oregon symbols into her Cultural Trust license plate design – which has been enlarged to the size of a bus and will soon appear as murals at four Oregon airports. Photo by: Lori Tobias

It was a crowd of everyone Thursday afternoon at the unveiling of the Oregon Coast Art Bus outside the Newport Performing Arts Center. Among Oregon’s elected officials and artistic and cultural notables, one person was truly guest of honor. It was Liza Mana burnsthe Eugene artist who created the composite image originally designed for the new Cultural Trust license platethen enlarged to mural size for four airports in Oregon, and now rendered to bus size.

“I used to work, but my art wasn’t on the side of a bus,” Burns told the small crowd. “It was life changing.”

We spoke with Burns ahead of the unveiling of his latest achievement.

It must be quite an experience to watch your work grow from a license plate-sized canvas to a life-size bus.

Burns: Well, this whole project has been crazy that way. It started out as a piece of digital art that was supposed to sit behind letters, and then it turned into these four huge murals. And now seeing him stuck on a bus is just weird. It’s so weird as an artist to see your work come to life like this. You know, he has this second life and third life and fourth life and fifth life. It’s a little hard to describe. I don’t think many people can experience that with their art. I was so lucky. It’s very crazy.

I guess the fact that this particular rendering is on a bus meant to bring art to kids – many of whom might not otherwise get this exposure – is a bonus?

It’s an honor, honestly, to be a part of what these guys are doing, and having my art be something these kids can experience while they’re doing all these other things. It’s really flattering. And that’s so meaningful, because I had access to all kinds of art, a ton, when I was a kid. I was super lucky. I had to take art lessons and they gave it to me at school. I would have loved that when I was a kid, I would have been on that bus all the time. So it’s very neat.

Was the interactive visual key which explains each of the 127 symbols of the design your idea?

When we first designed this project, I got the briefing that said to make Oregon culture into a license plate. I started realizing, OK, I want to do symbols; I want to do imagery, because I want to try to pack it with a wide range of things. The more I did, the more I was like, man, there are so many little, tiny symbols that you just want to know more about. It is a discovery. It’s a key for people so they can say, “Okay, I want to know more about what this stuff is?” Then we get a space to tell that story. That’s the fun part for me of this piece. There are many discovery levels. You have this chance to dive really deep into these little niches of Oregon culture and the key allows you to do so without overwhelming this unique design.

Do you think that broadens the audience?

Oh yeah. It’s that kind of starting point where they say, “Here’s a piece I know” or “I want to know more.” To recognize something is also a certain pride. “It’s my part of Oregon. I know where it comes from. It’s a neat part, too.


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