Tim Boyden’s studio. Photo by Dennis Galloway.

It’s Safety First at Visual Arts Week

The city’s summer art fest doesn’t want big crowds this year

For the first time in its three years of operation, Eugene Visual Arts Week is trying to make it so people don’t have to show up. Trying to keep crowds away is the opposite of what Jessica Watson usually does. Speaking on the phone, I asked how she was. She replied, “As good as an event planner can be doing.” 

Watson is Lane Arts’ ArtWalk and event planner. With the future uncertain due to COVID-19, plans are likely to change. And it’s not easy to take back marketing once you’ve put it out there. 

“If you like planning the same event like five different times, this is the job for you,” she says.

Lane Arts had planned to present a concert and big kick-off for Visual Arts Week (VAW) and the August First Friday ArtWalk, but that was canceled. And they are not requiring that galleries be open either. Rather, Watson is working with individuals at their own comfort level.

In 2018 VAW kicked off outside the Mayor’s Art Show at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts with a large crowd and performances. Mayor Lucy Vinis even tossed a balloon back after it reached the stage. 

This year will have no balloons — and if the week’s organizers can help it, no crowds either.

Lane Arts has sought to avoid crowds by extending First Friday from one evening to a full week. “Stretching First Friday out,” Dianne Story Cunningham says, allows for more hours of art viewing, “instead of the crush of First Friday.” 

Cunningham is president of New Zone Gallery, which is home to Salon des Refusés, where artworks rejected by the Mayor’s Art Show are exhibited. She says New Zone will be open and have the usual First Friday opening with beer and wine, music and “lots of space for visitors, with control at the door to see we don’t get crowded. Masks are required to enter the gallery, with social distancing expected.” 

The Mayor’s Art Show will be available for viewing this year at satellite locations in downtown storefronts. And curator Shannon Santiago hired photographer and University of Oregon professor Nathan Ward to take pictures of the show for an online exhibit. 

The Eugene Biennial, a regional juried exhibition at the Karin Clarke Gallery, will be open to the public. The Mayor’s Art Show, Clarke says, made the decision to go online early on. It is easier for Clarke to wait until the last minute, if closing becomes necessary.

Clarke’s Biennial and The Mayor’s Show are handing out their awards to artists on Aug. 14 via a Zoom meeting. If you’re not invited, don’t worry. You’ll be able to watch the recorded version when Clarke posts it on her gallery’s website. 

Many of VAW’s participants are extending online options for people who feel more comfortable taking part from the safety of their homes. Eugene Contemporary Art is exhibiting art in its relatively new space ANTI-AESTHETIC online at AntiAesthetic.com. Maude Kerns Art Center is holding workshops in-person and online, and Lane Arts is doing the same with its Studio Tours, of which there are 17 planned. 

Of all events taking place, the outdoor ones seem most suited to social distancing in a pandemic. 

Not like that was on anyone’s mind when the city’s Bridge Exhibitions was founded three years ago. Its focus on contemporary art and installation has always been more outdoor friendly. This year Bridge Exhibitions is presenting Reflections Space Eugene, a five-month-long series of outdoor works starting the week of Aug. 7 whose purpose in part is to invite “reflection and processing of events and experiences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”   

Eugene’s chapter of Earthbound Moon, headed by Lee Pembleton, has commissioned five “Create-Your-Own-Sculpture Treasure Hunts” and invites you to collaborate with five artists on a series of  DIY artworks.  

And Outdoor Studios will be set up by Lane Arts and Art City at the Park Blocks on Aug. 7 — unless there are further quarantine restrictions, Watson says. 

Is Visual Arts Week different this year? 

It is. But Eugene’s Public Art Manager Kate Ali says having an imagination and being creative is as important now as it’s ever been: Visual Arts Week “encourages creatives to thrive,” she says.

Lane Arts Council, Eugene Cultural Services Division and Maude Kerns Art Center present the third annual Visual Arts Week from Aug. 7-15. For a schedule and locations see Eugene-or.gov/3934/Visual-Arts-Week.