A mantra is scribbled on the walls of Ilan Shamir's Upper Canyon Road studio. "The things that make us happy make us wise," it reads in bright yellow chalk, vividly contrasting with the dark, eggplant-hued wall.
It's a saying that rings true for Shamir—an entrepreneur, artist and writer—who, after moving to Santa Fe last fall, decided to put together a mobile, DIY project with the sole purpose of making people engage, think and smile.
His aha moment came when he drove by an antique shop in his native Fort Collins, Colo., on his way down to Santa Fe, and noticed a 1960 International Harvester Metro Mite rusting away in a neighboring field.
"I thought, 'I shouldn't do that,'" he reminisces with a chuckle. "'I'll just go in and ask the price.'"
To call the former ice-cream truck a fixer-upper would be an understatement. A new engine, transmission and three licks of paint later, Shamir's vision took form.
"Perfection is more than a perfect paint job or a perfect restoration job; it's a perfect creative expression," he says. The expression part would come later, as an organic and reactionary response to the exclusive aura of the local art scene.
"I had the clear intention of coming to Santa Fe [and] being a part of art and creativity," he says. "I didn't find it accessible; I didn't find things happening like maybe they used to, so I was very intentional in thinking, 'Well, how do I bring myself and my ideas to Santa Fe?'"
The answer became clear. “I’m all about fun,” he says. “So I decided to bring fun to Santa Fe.” He then glanced over to his refrigerator door and the idea blossomed. He outfitted the truck with bumper-sticker-sized words, fridge-poetry-style; parked the truck in high-traffic areas like South Guadalupe Street and the Plaza; and witnessed people’s interactions with it. Thus, the
truck was born.
“The rest is sweet history,” he says.
A seemingly endless array of magnets decorate the truck, emblazoned with words like “passion,” “gratitude” and his favorite, “breathe.”
“We’re part of this beautiful world, and sometimes we get going so quickly, we forget to just breathe and take in things, let go of what we no longer need and breathe in some more fresh air,” he says.
Weighing in at around $6 a magnet, Shamir’s self-funded venture has proven to be a pricey one, and he’s aware there’s a chance vandals or those longing for a souvenir might hit up his truck. Still, he remains tenderhearted.
“Somebody once said, ‘Are you afraid to smile because somebody is gonna steal your teeth?’”
Shamir says witnessing people’s receptiveness to his project is payment enough. He recalls his first outing. “I was at a stoplight on Alameda, and a guy pulls a left-turn, stops right in front of me and goes: ‘Beautiful, man!’”
Just three weeks into the launch of Poetry in Motion, Shamir is overwhelmed by similar reactions. Recently, he came back to the vehicle after enjoying a Bandstand concert and saw a swarm of people around it.
“It was transformative,” he muses. “It was transformative to see people talking with each other, being creative, seeing the words that they did. The more I see it, the more it brings a smile to me .”
He then saw a note affixed to one of the truck’s wipers. “Whoever you are,” it reads, “you’ve done something marvelous, and it has made a difference. I’ve enjoyed the shift in perception that your mobile poetry has gifted me.”
Shamir considers the versified van a work in progress and is mapping out ideas for its future—some of which involve actual ice cream. Ultimately, the accidental poet hopes his kindhearted, artistic gumption is contagious.
“It does make me feel good, but it’s not about me,” he says. “It’s about having other people feel good, smile, look up and go, ‘Man, I’m not gonna do a Poetry in Motion truck, but I’m gonna do my own deal…not just in art but in their life.’”