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Arts Viewpoint

Wake up Eugene, and push your art scene into the 21st Century

I can’t say I felt much when I read that the Jacobs Gallery was closing; having never visited, I only knew of it as “that gallery under the Hult.” I could envision the work they presented. You know, the kind of art that could easily hang in a “respectable gallery.” 

While that may seem malicious, I approach this prominent closure with the perspective that art here, for the most part, is meant for an older audience. Can you blame the owners of the Jacobs Gallery for giving up? Surveying the art scene of Eugene tells me it’s less relevant and more “over the hill,” at least with regard to its ability to be at all engaging. 

Now, I don’t have a degree in Art, but I know what is engaging and what’s not. The art scene in Eugene is bleak. Two galleries — The Gallery at the Watershed and now Jacobs — have closed in the past year. And First Friday ArtWalk feels less about art and more about getting people Downtown. This is definitely good, but it’s not pushing our art scene forward. 

Most of the galleries or shows I’ve attended feel like the air has been sucked out of the room in an effort to preserve something that is already irrelevant. The 2015 Valentine’s Day show in the Broadway Commerce Center lobby was the most provocative thing I’ve seen, and some pieces in the show were censored for being too “offensive.” 

Art is visceral and should make you feel something. Right now, Eugene’s art scene is making me feel sleepy. 

The Barn Light recently supported young and new talent with #SeenInEugene, a crowd-sourced photography show at their new East location (545 E. 8th Ave.). The event was a wonderful experience, connecting art and technology. Taking what Eugene is trying to market itself as (tech, tech, tech) and creating an arts conversation with it is a realistic, relevant and engaging effort. This offered a moment where a business thought about how art could support commerce and vice versa. The Barn Light East didn’t just throw some art on their walls; it truly activated its space. 

Why is this important? I work for a community that doesn’t think it needs community. Working at The Wayward Lamb and with the queer community of Eugene, it’s clear that we have “made do” for so long with what we could find. I see every day how fractured the queer community of Eugene is and how it becomes a day-by-day process to get people to start talking, dancing and engaging again. 

Art in any medium is the same, and unless something shakes it up, complacency will continue. At The Wayward Lamb, we presents formal gallery showings of young artists not because we need to fill a bar on a Monday night but because we know art has an intrinsic relationship with getting people talking and engaging with the “now.” We know that a community repressed from expression suffers. It is our every day. 

How can we grow? I call on businesses to become more actively engaged in the arts. This isn’t limited to the visual arts. Stop for a moment and think of the least plausible event to happen in your space. A dinner? A dance party? A theatrical performance? 

Whatever scares you most, try it. Staging a formal art gallery in a dark queer bar? It works. When businesses step outside of their model and play against expectations when presenting any art, not only are they engaging their current demographic, but most definitely opening their business to a broader audience.

Eugene needs to catch up, but that doesn’t mean it needs to involve that nasty “G” word (gentrify). The scene must wake up so young people want to stay and make it as vibrant and dynamic a city as possible. The positive growth of Eugene requires it. First Friday ArtWalk is a start, but we have to take it further. 

Some suggestions for inspiration: Visit the ShadowFox Gallery recently opened by artist Jason Pancoast at 76 W. Broadway or check out Cowfish next door (when people aren’t dancing): They have rotating art, and always engage local artists. Check out the photo gallery presented by rising photographer Dmitri von Klein at The Barn Light East through November. 

And, of course, check out the playful collage and sculpture of Andrew Oslovar Dec. 6-8 at The Wayward Lamb. 

Get off your ass, Eugene! Create and support, instead. Your town is depending on it.

John O’Malley, event producer and marketing director for The Wayward Lamb, is a transplant from New York, lover of culture, and hater of negativity and apathy.