‘Our Lady of Not Taking It Anymore’ paperclay on canvas by Rogene Manas at maude kerns art center

Baby Steps

Local art galleries start to reopen under easing of the lockdown 

Things are looking up for Eugene-area art galleries in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown. After a spring of virtual exhibits and video tours in place of real in-person shows, local art galleries are cautiously opening their doors to the public as state lockdown restrictions are eased in Phase 1 of the reopening.

Karin Clarke is taking a conservative approach at the Karin Clarke Gallery, 760 Willamette Street. She has been open only by appointment through the end of Phase 1, which began May 15 and could end June 5 in Lane County. Clarke has big shows planned for July and August, and sees June as a transitional period.

“It’s kind of, in a sense, business as usual,” Clarke says. “The gallery is a pretty safe place to go — often it’ll be empty or just one other couple.” 

She is thinking of limiting her gallery to eight visitors at a time, all wearing masks, with a sign by the door prompting people to come back if it’s full. She says she believes this will be an easy rule to enforce.

Clarke hasn’t simply locked the gallery doors during the lockdown. The Lane Arts Council did a Facebook live tour of her Oregon Landscape show, and a couple of the artists whose work is displayed made videos talking about their work from their studio.

Across the street from the Clarke Gallery, White Lotus Gallery, 767 Willamette Street, is taking similar precautions. People who have been waiting on custom framing or wanting to pick up art they purchased at a previous show may come into the gallery by appointment only. 

“At the beginning, we were all nervous and before coming to work this morning, I still felt nervous,” gallery assistant Jennifer Huang says. “But I think it helps for people to come out and do these small errands. Everyone is on the same page, and we are all trying to look out for one another.” 

White Lotus had shows scheduled from April until the end of the year, and those shows are currently in suspension. Huang says that the gallery is waiting to see what happens during Phase 1 before making any big decisions. “For us, it would be hard to make a commitment and then not have the audience, and as a result, not generate any revenue. There are just too many unknowns.” 

Emerald Art Center, 500 Main Street, Springfield, plans to open to the public starting Wednesday, June 3, while maintaining social distance protocols. The nonprofit center’s 15th annual National Juried Painting Competition has been postponed from May till June, but people can enjoy a virtual exhibition sneak preview, where they can choose their favorite painting in the show and vote for the People’s Choice Award. 

Maude Kerns Art Center, 1910 East 15th Avenue, resumed its regular office and gallery hours on Friday, May 22. Its new exhibit Inspired Instructors: Works by Maude Kerns Educators can be seen both in the gallery and online at MKArtCenter.org. The exhibit features wide-ranging work from the nonprofit art center’s 16 instructors, showcasing what they have to offer to the community as art educators. The show is on view through Friday, June 26. 

The nonprofit New Zone Gallery, 22 West 7th Avenue, is gearing up for new shows as soon as Phase 1 is scheduled to end at the beginning of June. The Lane Arts Council’s First Friday ArtWalk for June has been canceled, but Gallery Director Steve LaRiccia has put out a call to artists to see who wants to participate in a show. 

“We’re all excited about bringing the arts back to downtown Eugene,” LaRiccia says. “We were always the Grand Central Station for First Friday. It was always packed, but now it can’t be packed. So we might have to turn people away, and we’ve never done that before.” 

During the lockdown, New Zone had its first-ever window display with online sales. Art lovers had the opportunity to walk by the storefront and check out artwork through the window. If they wanted to help out the gallery and artists, they could purchase it online in a contact-free transaction. 

LaRiccia is itching to get back into the swing of things, and he says he believes the arts world will eventually make a full recovery. 

“We made it through the 2008 recession where two-thirds of galleries were just gone,” LaRiccia says. “The arts have gone through pandemics, wars and economic downturns — but they’ve always come back and survived.” 

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