Martin Keil and Henrik Mayer recently spent two weeks in Columbus.

Martin Keil and Henrik Mayer recently spent two weeks in Columbus.

They rode the bus - a lot.

The European artists - Keil lives in the Ukraine and Mayer in Germany - spent three days riding nonstop aboard Central Ohio Transit Authority buses to far-reaching areas of the city, taking pictures and chatting up the riders and drivers.

"It's great to ride the bus," Mayer said.

"Sitting on the bus for hours, it's kind of like a safari," Keil said.

The two men have been commissioned to create public-art installations for COTA for Finding Time: Columbus Public Art, which is part of the city's bicentennial celebration.

Keil and Mayer, who are being paid $10,000 for their work, collaborate as "Reinigungsgesellschaft," which translates to "The Cleaning Society" in German.

Their work involves an intensive period of investigation into a business or cultural institution. They describe their work as "an artistic venture at the point of intersection between art and society."

Keil and Mayer went back to their respective countries on March 17. They will return in mid-May to present their work.

The COTA project represents a public-private partnership that includes such agencies as the Columbus Arts Commission, The Ohio State University, the city of Columbus and the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District.

Beth Berkemer, spokeswoman for COTA, said the transit authority has a multitude of display areas for the art: bus stops, bus shelters, transit stations and the buses themselves. The initiative comes at a time when ridership is up, meaning the art will be on display for more people from a broad range of backgrounds.

"This public art project is a unique way for COTA to reflect the city's heart and culture to everyone who comes in contact with our system and appreciates our efforts, from riders to everyone else - those of whom we like to consider future riders," Berkemer said.

She said the time spent with Keil and Mayer has been rewarding.

"They're real laid-back and you can tell they love what they're doing," she said. "And they know what they're doing."

Keil and Mayer are no strangers to Columbus. They came to the city 10 years ago on the Greater Columbus Arts Council's sister-city exchange program and again in 2009 when they did a residency at the Columbus College of Art and Design.

"We love to be here, especially this time," Mayer said. "We met a lot of people. We learned a lot."

City residents, for the most part, were accommodating and friendly, they said.

"I think people are generally polite and open-minded, and very normal during a time of transition and recession," Keil said.