From the Trenches

If Eugene promotes itself as a city of arts and outdoors, what does that leave for its right-bank alternative neighbor, Springfield? For Ditchprojects, an artist-organized (and financed) collective residing in a labyrinthine warehouse complex across the tracks from downtown, the answer is opportunity. 

Ditchprojects, which fishes nomenclature from the now-flowing, then drained-and-dry salmon run nearby, is the contemporary manifestation of what began with a handful of UO MFA students in the summer of 2008. From that, Ditch has dug in as an experimental niche for local artists to create, and traveling artists to fill with their works.

Mike Bray, one of Ditchprojects’ founding members, and one of three who occupy the studios behind the two gallery spaces, forded the river to provide a progressive dollar-free dialogue for experimental visual and performance arts. 

“We want artists to take a risk they otherwise wouldn’t in a commercial space,” says Bray. “We have no intention of ever selling art.” 

Instead, each of the nine members of Ditchprojects pays dues to the tune of $150 per month (extra to hold a studio) to support the venue, supply the gallery openings and to help cover costs for outside artists to display their work in the space. 

“We barely break even,” says Jared Haug, the only member with an official title: accountant. “We only want to be sure the rent is taken care of and that money doesn’t have to dictate the kind of show we put on.”

And the space is grandiose once you find it: raised roofs with a front room of 1,600 square feet, and an attached back gallery of 500 square feet. The sheer size of the space “forces you to think of new possibilities, gives you a chance to do new things and push new boundaries,” says Bray.

Most of the members are interdisciplinary artists working through paint, photography, drawing, fibers, video projection, sculpture and conceptual and installment mediums.  Recent shows have presented offensive catastrophe art by Portland’s Fuck Mountain, Sims-like prints based on social game-theory by Ralph Pugay, conceptual hunting/hunted photography and video by member Brooks Dierdorff, and landscapes derived from layered footage of discount videos by Haug.

Ditchprojects is also in league to register as a not-for-profit organization in collaboration with an Oregon Coast artist-residency program based in Lincoln City.  “Our goal is to bring other artists to us,” says Bray. It’s beneficial to bring them from other places so as to elevate the artistic dialogue.”

“We operate outside the contemporary conversation,” says Haug. “But that’s why we started this.”

The next show is a series of drawings by Mike Pare, a New Mexico-based artist focusing on the material products and narrative of the Rajneesh movement/organization/cult that centered in Eastern Oregon from 1980-85. Pare works with graphite and pencil to create drawings of newspaper re-contextualization and dark tie-dye pieces that reek of both LSD and decay.

Nonetheless, these twisted artists have vaulted the chasm to an experimental, unclassified place. “This isn’t a hub for art,” says Bray. “We need to bring it here.  Eugene is great for the arts, but we’re over here. We’re in Springfield.”

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