Visual art and theater groups spring up
by Suzi Steffen
Spring’s around the corner, and new Eugene art and theater groups want to add more options to the town’s blooming cultural life.
Downtown Eugene’s empty storefronts have life behind them, thanks to the recently formed Eugene Storefront Art Project. A Eugene playwright/director just founded the Brick Underground Theater to focus on LGBT work. And even Fenario Gallery, which is closing, may soon be reborn as the Eugene Arts Collective.
Local DJ Marc Gunther, who goes by Marc Time, said that the Storefront Art Project gained traction early this year as the City of Eugene worked on its master plan for public art.
Paula Goodbar, a photographer, floated the idea in November of 2009, Time says, but she didn’t get much feedback. Time wrote to Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy on Facebook, wondering if anyone in the city had plans to put local artists’ work in downtown’s empty storefronts. “This concept is all over the country,” he said, citing L.A. and San Francisco as examples.
Last fall in San Franciso, Mayor Gavin Newsom supported the launch of a program in the Tenderloin and Central Market Street areas. “Elders danced on the sidewalk, friends cruised along Market Street to check out the thought provoking contemporary art for free, and yes, folks even spent cash at the local bars and eateries,” he wrote in a story for the Huffington Post (which you can read at http://wkly.ws/ex).
Piercy wrote back to Time suggesting that he start the project. “I was like, I’m on the spot now!” he said. Along with Goodbar and artist Peter Herley, he dove in and created a Facebook group for the project.
“We said, why don’t we cut through the bullshit and do this ourselves? We don’t have to go through the city,” Time said. The Facebook group quickly gained fans and the enthusiasm of Eugene artists, including Sean Äaberg, who writes the Last Friday Artwalk Blog (http://wkly.ws/ev) and who reported on the project’s first public meeting with artists.
“In this sort of urban beautification project, [artists] are creating a veneer of interest and vibrancy for the city,” Äaberg wrote on the blog.
After drafting agreements for landlords and artists, the group began with two exhibits: David P. Miller’s sculptures in 857 Willamette, a Lane Council of Governments building, and Melissa Mankins’ photography at 62 W. Broadway, where Brian Hebb and Shawn Mediaclast are planning to open Cowfish Coffee, Lounge and Club sometime soon. Those installations were covered on KEZI 9 and KVAL (see the KVAL video at http://wkly.ws/ew).
Äaberg has high expectations for the project, as he wrote on the Last Friday Artwalk blog: “I hope that the Eugene Storefront Art Project can help to unlock some sort of prophetic ‘development cycle’ which will usher in a new period of reinvestment in the core of the city.”
Time agrees. “I tell the landlords, by putting art in your empty space, you’re going to be attracting people to that space, and you’re going to be leasing your property,” he said. “You’ll be kicking us out because you’ll have the property leased!”
The project is now working with the Emerald Art Center and others in Springfield as well. Not that Time and the rest of the group want to control anyone’s attempt to beautify cities, he said. “You can take the idea and just steal it. It’s a DIY concept. If you know somebody who has a building, just go up and ask.”
Another soon-to-be vacant storefront is Fenario Gallery at 881 Willamette. Braxton Nagle, one of the associates at Fenario, decided to turn to the community instead of simply closing. He created the Facebook group “Eugene Arts Collective” and posted a call to artists. “Hopefully, [we’re] evolving in the next couple months into an artist collective,” he wrote. He listed workshops, artist space, community space and other ideas for the transformation of the large, corner gallery. (For more info, see an interview with Nagle on EW! A blog this weekend.)
But visual art isn’t the only new addition to the cultural scene in Eugene. Playwright and director Brian Peterson moved to Portland for a few years but came back late last year. He’s now directing Kiss of the Spider Woman for Benjamin Newman’s revitalized Trial by Fire Theatreworks (it opens Friday, March 19, at Upstart Crow Studios).
After he came back, Peterson decided that it was time to revive gay theater in Eugene, so he founded Brick Underground Theater. “The ultimate goal of this theater company is to showcase all walks of life inside the gay community,” Peterson said. The first offering from Brick is a staged reading of Peterson’s Stonewall history piece Can’t Tear Me Down at 9 pm Wednesday, April 21, at Cozmic Pizza, with other plays planned for June, July and October. Peterson recently cast the reading and is looking for company members in order to stage full productions. He said that part of the purpose of Brick is to “show real gay men, real lesbians, show people this is who we are.”