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All Art And No Business?

Jerry Ross. Photo by Todd Cooper.
Jerry Ross. Photo by Todd Cooper.

“Who’s going to pay for the arts?” artist Jerry Ross asked at a Feb. 12 meeting at the Eugene Public Library. That was the question of the hour at the meeting hosted by the Arts & Business Alliance of Eugene (ABAE) and the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts (DIVA).

Two dozen local arts and culture leaders came to discuss ideas to strengthen Eugene’s arts and economic core and to see what organizations would be interested in a shared multi-use business, arts and cultural space downtown. Many at the meeting noted that there were no representatives from the business side of the ABAE alliance. ABAE Managing Director Karen Rainsong said the new meet-up discussion series is in a “preliminary stage” and that DIVA will be spearheading future meetings for the proposed cultural center. DIVA President Miriam Alexis Jordan says that her business contacts did not respond to emails about the meeting.

“Next time, we’re definitely going to make an effort to invite business people,” Rainsong says.

Several projects were introduced, such as Eugene Ballet Company’s tentative plan to move into 5th Street Market, developer Brian Obie’s proposed Market District at 6th and Oak and painter Jerry Ross’ ongoing campaign efforts to use the vacant historic downtown Eugene Post Office as a multi-use shared art space. In addition to EBC and Ross, representatives from the Asian Council, DIVA, Wordcrafters, Plein Air Painters of Lane County and the Eugene Celebration board expressed interest in a shared downtown space. 

Participants pointed to examples in other states. Ross said Las Vegas’ Arts Factory would be a sustainable “mixed-use model.” Tomi Anderson, Eugene’s new Cultural Services director, suggested looking at Virginia’s Torpedo Factory, while the Oregon Supported Living Program’s artist-in-residence Mija Andrade proposed Seattle’s Tashiro Kaplan Artists Lofts as an example to follow. 

But who will foot the bill for such a project? Anderson discouraged looking to the city for funds. 

“I have never known a time when the city is like, ‘Yes, we have money and we’re going to spend it on the arts,’” Anderson said. “That’s never going to happen. There’s never not going to be a budget problem.”

The discussion turned to the historic tradition of wealthy individuals and businesses as patrons of the arts. 

“How committed are the businesses to the arts in Eugene?” asked Amy Isler Gibson, owner of the Gallery at the Watershed. “Do we have any businesses here?” The attendees looked around and shook their heads.

“That says something right there,” Ross replied.

The meeting’s attendees requested that a follow-up meeting be scheduled where every arts or cultural representative bring along a representative from the business community.

Mitra Chester, St. Vincent de Paul’s style special projects manager, noted that “Businesses are getting more open-minded about how art can support their business,” pointing to collaborations between The Barn Light and Bijou Metro, as well as Ninkasi’s patronage of musicians and artists.

“If we are enlightened people, and I think we are, we need to start an initiative, harness horses,” said Riley Grannan, managing director for Eugene Ballet Company. “Saying there’s no money available — there’s piles of money available! If the right proposal gets on the desk of these people,” pointing to Eugeneans like real estate broker Alan Evans and the Jaquas. He added, “We need to challenge the enlightened people of Eugene to do what they say they do. Do we stand up for the arts?”