Dianne Story Cunningham

Art and Contribution

The passions of New Zone’s Dianne Story Cunningham

Members of the art collective the New Zone Gallery get a guaranteed “Featured Artist” show once a year and a “Spotlight” show afterward. The relatively new home for the gallery at 7th Avenue and Willamette Street opens its walls twice a year to the community, too, for all-comers shows.

No judging allowed.

All artwork submitted is shown. This massive building has a lot of walls, so space is not a problem. And the gallery similarly opens its doors to anyone whose art has been refused by the annual juried Eugene Mayor’s Art Show. 

This is how Dianne Story Cunningham got her start as an exhibiting artist. Her art was rejected by the Mayor’s Art Show so she headed right over to the New Zone, where gallery manager Steve LaRiccia not only displayed her work in the annual Salon des Refusés show, but eventually bought one of her pieces.

Cunningham’s medium is clay, and her works, then as now, are all ceramic faces. Colorful and geometric, they are takes on Picasso’s heads from his Cubist era. When she first showed images of these pieces to the Freed Gallery in Lincoln City, it said, “We are a fine art gallery.” The implication was clear: Her work was not fine. Yet they accepted 14 works and have so far sold eight. 

Cunningham’s faces sell. 

The marketability of her artwork goes well with her other passions: volunteerism and contribution. She donates to 30 nonprofit organizations a year, mostly to causes that aim to “make women’s lives better.” She also contributes the entirety of her profits from all her art to nonprofit organizations. 

Her “Spotlight” show at The New Zone during January will donate all proceeds to ShelterCare, an organization that helps, in Cunningham’s words, “our most vulnerable citizens” to find housing. For this show, in addition to her “Faces,” she’s made a series of ceramic “Tiny Houses” as a tie-in to the organization that will benefit from her sales.   

“I don’t need the money,” she says.

 That’s mostly because housing is something Cunningham knows a thing or two about. She worked as a dental hygienist but bought real estate as a way to supplement her income for retirement. She did so well buying and fixing up properties that she wound up with a host of rentals and retired at age 50. 

The idea of becoming an artist struck about 10 years ago while viewing art at the New Zone. She had never made art before then. Now she is president of the gallery and has work in a “fine art gallery” on the coast — not to mention, a whole new avenue for contributing and donating.

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