The Art of Possibility

Could Civic Stadium become an arts playground?

A detail from Hans d’Hollosy’s ‘west broadway and olive alley mural’Photo by Alex V. Cipolle

Crossing 20th Avenue and heading south on Willamette, the back walls of Civic Stadium seem to rise from the east side of the street. Most who pass it on their daily commute probably no longer notice; others might deem it a ramshackle eyesore.

Or as Greg Ausland, of the Eugene Civic Alliance, puts it: “Right now, it looks like a beached whale.”

If you’re a creative type, however, you don’t see a long, drab wall — you see a canvas and the opportunity for great art. And for the imaginative folks familiar with Eugene Civic Alliance’s proposed plan for the entire 10.2-acre parcel of land — a renovated grandstand, a Kidsports fieldhouse, a plaza, new stands, concessions, bike paths and a small park — the Civic site becomes a playground of art possibilities.

While $4.5 million has been raised for the purchase of the site, the fundraising for the project’s construction and renovation is not yet underway. Some may say talk of art at the site is putting the cart, or art, before the horse. But involving artists is often an afterthought in projects of this magnitude and, in Eugene, with little private investment in public art and a relatively small budget for public art in the city’s coffers, the community — much like the save Civic Stadium movement itself — may need to be the one to make art a priority.

Of course EW has its own ideas of how art could play a role at the Civic site — a series of murals, 3D projection-mapping light shows, climbable sculpture, the Eugene Symphony opening games — but we also reached out to the Eugene Civic Alliance, local artists and the city of Eugene to discuss possibilities for the 10.2-acre plot in the heart of Eugene.

Into the Treasure Trove

“In terms of the overall site for interpretive exhibits and artwork — it’s a huge canvas,” Ausland says. “The art and telling the story is part of the story of the overall master plan,”

Ausland, a civil engineer, is on the advisory board for Eugene Civic Alliance along with Linda Wheatley, also a board member for the Eugene Parks Foundation. The two recently did a “walkthrough” of the Civic site.

“I just want to see everything in here that might have potential to be used by the artist and stay part of the site,” Wheatley says. They found a treasure trove of items that could be repurposed for site-specific art installations including the old hand-turned scoreboard, hooks and showerheads from the locker area, seats, two large wooden beams and the original “Art-Deco-y” turnstile from the north entrance.

“I would love to see some of these things reintegrated into the pocket park and plaza as sculptures and objets d’art,” Wheatley says. A pocket park is a very small park open to the public.

The bones of Civic Stadium are in great condition, Ausland notes. As for Civic Stadium’s long wall along Willamette? Part of it is rotting. “It’s in really bad shape in terms of its decay,” says Ausland, who recently spent a week examining the site with a lead inspector and a structural engineer.

Eugene Civic Alliance is looking at the possibility of re-siding the western wall along Willamette to match the original siding that can still be seen on the stadium’s north side — a vertical tongue-and-groove style that most likely would be done in Douglas fir or cedar. “It could be gorgeous unadulterated,” Ausland says, while noting “there are a lot of steps before that happens.”

Nancy Webber, also on the advisory board for the Eugene Civic Alliance, says, siding or no siding, there’s still great potential for art along the wall.

“Who knows what kind of art work might go up there? I have watched people do projected things on large walls like that that are awesome,” she says. “We have these large canvases and it would be a shame to use it just once.”

An Artist’s Playground

Local muralist Kari Johnson envisions sports art or a “fantastical soccer scene” along the wall. “You could do the tongue and groove and leave a section and the tongue and groove would be like a beautiful wooden frame,” Johnson says of the wall. “In some ways, a wood-framed mural, or three smaller wood-framed murals, would be easier on the eye than [painting] the whole entire thing. Then you could have three different artists.”

Johnson points out that the murals could change by using plywood boards that could be switched in and out. Sheet metal or stainless-steel cutout shapes — like figures playing sports — could also be mounted and they would “last forever.”

Whatever it is, Johnson, who has painted many murals around town, would like to see some visuals on that vertical stretch of real estate. “There’s a lot of big, ugly slabs of buildings and it doesn’t need to be like that,” she says. “It’s so easy to make a spot for it.”

There would be several benefits of murals on the wall, Hans d’Hollosy says. “A good mural tends to inhibit graffiti,” he notes. “Another good thing about a mural is it tends to be less money” than sculpture.

D’Hollosy is a local painter who created the expansive mural on the eastern wall of the New Zone Gallery, aka the “West Broadway and Olive Alley Mural,” which was mostly done with donated house paint.

“I think the community could get together over that and do something. I bet everyone in Eugene has one gallon of paint they’ll never use again,” he says, suggesting a sort of community-wide paint drive. “Guys, this is your Civic Stadium — go for it. Make a community effort on every level. Let everyone feel like they’re involved and it won’t cost them a dime. The same thing can be done with sculpture. Anyone have any sheet metal?”

The only restriction d’Hollosy sees as far as the content of the mural goes is that it be family-friendly.

Local found-object sculptor Jud Turner says the plethora of materials identified at Civic — bleachers, timber, the turnstile, etc. — would work well for building large-scale permanent sculpture.

“Kids love dinosaurs,” he says. “I would love to see a full-scale dinosaur skeleton made out of bleachers and chair remnants, since we have some pretty cool fossil history here” in the region.

Turner has experience creating life-size sculptures of extinct animals; in 2012, an exhibit design company out of Seattle commissioned him to build a to-scale Columbia Mammoth skeleton for Washington’s Moses Lake Museum and Art Center, with 95 percent of the sculpture made from recycled materials.

“I would love to work with some of those materials too,” Turner says of Civic Stadium remnants. “That would be exciting.”

Art and the City

Funding Civic art, after the struggle to raise money for the site itself, is a factor.

“It would just take people applying for grants and it could happen,” says Liora Sponko, executive director of the Lane Arts Council. “Then maybe you get a business” to sponsor it. She suggests applying for grants offered by Lane Arts Council, as well as those provided by the Lane County Cultural Coalition, the Lane County Historical Society and the Oregon Art Commission.

There has also been some discussion whether the $400,000 the city added to the $4.5 million Civic pot to purchase the pocket park and bike path easement would trigger the Percent for Art ordinance that Eugene adopted in 1981. That ordinance has funded works like the “Northwest Passage” mural at the airport and the bronze otters, raccoons, turtles and bears downtown.

The ordinance states that “one percent of all construction and remodeling funds for public places” exceeding $50,000 will go into the Municipal Public Arts Fund “to be used to make provision of art in public places and improvements owned by the city.”

The ordinance, according to Eugene City Attorney Glenn Klein, does not apply to the purchase of land.

“The purchase would not qualify,” Klein tells EW via email. “The city is not purchasing the property with $4.5 million in public funds and then turning around and selling to the Eugene Civic Alliance. Instead, the city is using approximately $400,000 in funds to purchase a pocket park and bike path easement. The Alliance is using approximately $4.1 million of their funds to purchase everything else.”

He continues, “Under the one-percent-for-art ordinance, funds used to purchase land without improvements (the portion we are purchasing for the pocket park and bike path easement have no improvements) are not subject to the one percent provision.”

Klein notes, “No park is being ‘constructed’ at this time. Instead, we are only acquiring land/open space. At some point in the future, there may be some construction, but that is not happening now.”

Meaning that at some future date, if the city does spend in excess of $50,000 in construction costs on the pocket park, the ordinance will be triggered. Bikes paths, however, do not qualify for the ordinance.

Even if the $400,000 purchase did qualify for the percent-for-art provision, it would only translate to $4,000 — not a robust sum when you consider the potential costs of materials, labor, weatherization and site engineering. Perhaps, then, a public-private project of this scale should spark a new discussion about the way Eugene funds public art.

According to the 2010 Eugene Public Art Plan, which was funded partially by the National Endowment of the Arts, Eugene has fallen behind national best practices, as many cities of comparable size have upped their ordinances to two percent.

The plan also states that “broadening Eugene’s percent-for-art funding source in the future to encompass a wider range of projects would increase the size of the public art fund,” and goes on to recommend that the ordinance be amended to include transportation projects.

“The omission of transportation projects is somewhat ironic,” the plan reads. “Transportation facilities — streets, alleys, bicycle paths and other public thoroughfares — provide some of the best, most visible sites for installation of public art.”

What Dreams May Come

At this point, art for the site is just happy and hopeful speculation.

“I think there are lots of opportunities out there and we don’t even know what they all are yet,” Wheatley says. “We want to be inclusive as possible. It’s going to be a process.”

Several members of the Eugene Civic Alliance agree that part of the process will be involving the art community.

“It’s a great opportunity to have [the Civic Stadium site] be developed out with a lot of community input like it was done in the ’30s and the arts are a huge part,” Ausland says. “Somebody will be brought in from the arts that will help tell the story.” He adds, “Everyone wants to tell the story and the history of the site.”

“I see the story of Civic still being told,” Wheatley adds. “But I don’t know what that’s going to look like.”