Photo courtesy of Maude Kerns Art Center

At Long Last — A Festival

After a four-year absence, Art and the Vineyard returns to Alton Baker Park July 5 through 7

Paintings and images are neatly lined up on the floor and leaning against walls in early June, days away from being hung for exhibit.

Two exhibitions opened June 21 and will be on display through July 19 at Maude Kerns Art Center. Michael Fisher, the center’s executive director, talks with pride about the exhibits and to the growing array of classes and programs at Maude Kerns since the pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Still, there was a gaping hole at Maude Kerns and the community since 2020, and always this question: Will Art and the Vineyard, the main fundraiser for Maude Kerns that drew 20,000 visitors annually and was a staple event in Eugene during the summer months, ever return?

The answer is a resounding yes. “This festival is back by popular demand,” Fisher declares. 

After a four-year absence, the 37th edition of Art and the Vineyard finally comes to Alton Baker Park July 5 through 7, and Fisher believes the four-year hiatus has not stalled momentum for the festival.

“I feel like the momentum is there,” he says. “For us, there was a real hunger for art during the pandemic. So many people got through the pandemic through art. And that speaks to the festival, too. There’s a real hunger for that. It’s really the last event of that size in Eugene.”

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Photo courtesy of Maude Kerns Art Center

It has been a long and winding road for Art and the Vineyard since the 2020 pandemic shutdown.

In 2021, Fisher and the Maude Kerns board decided to move Art and the Vineyard off its usual July dates and into September. This was, Fisher explains, an attempt to distance the festival from COVID’s Alpha variant. Instead, the Delta variant came into play late that summer, and a week before the event, Fisher got a call from Lane County Public Health.

“They just said, ‘Hey, we need to have a conversation about this,’” he recalls, and the event was canceled.

Fisher notes that planning for Art and the Vineyard is a year long endeavor for his small staff, so when the Omicron variant hit in late 2021 and early 2022 — and no one had any idea how long it would last — the board decided against holding the festival for another year.

Then came 2023. “We were surprised,” Fisher says. “Honestly, the landscape had changed for our infrastructure operations.” There were higher costs for fencing, power and security, among other things, he adds, and some infrastructure-type businesses that Maude Kerns had long-standing ties with were no longer operating. 

“I think we really wanted to do it in ’23,” Fisher notes. “It was too much to risk. I want to keep my small staff and not burn them out.”

Enter Bryan Nelson and Rebecca Pirwitz, who co-own Secret Sauce Productions in Eugene, a passion project on the side as both work full-time jobs. They have worked separately and together on small and large events in Eugene, Seattle and Las Vegas. They answered an open call for event management from Maude Kerns in February, and Art and the Vineyard is the largest event the two have co-managed.

It was, Pirwitz says of being hired by Maude Kerns, “serendipitous timing. We kind of fell in love with them.” Besides getting infrastructure business settled, Secret Sauce Productions also handles ticketing, marketing and booking some of the musicians.

“We’re making sure all the pieces are in place,” she says. “It’s been a lot of work, but honestly, it’s been so much fun. The community needs this festival.”

While you’ll have to go to Maude Kerns Art Center itself to see the work of Jeff Leake and David Carmack Lewis as well as Jennifer Lugris, both Fisher and Pirwitz emphasize that visitors to Art and the Vineyard will see everything that they have come to expect from the festival: the Artists’ Marketplace, Art for Your Garden, Maude’s Art Arena, the International Food Court and Beer Garden and a chance to sample Oregon wines. Special attractions include the Oregon Authors’ Table as well as demonstrations and ceramics sales from Club Mud. As usual, there is music galore on the main stage.  

“I love that we provide this space with the artists,” Fisher says. “We have an amazing arts community.”           

Art and the Vineyard is July 5 through 7 at Alton Baker Park, 11 am to 10 pm Friday and Saturday and 11 am to 5 pm Sunday. Three-day passes are $25 for adults and $15 for youth ages 7 to 14. Single day tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for youth. Children under 6 get free admission. Ticket purchase information as well as art vendors and music lineups are at ArtAndTheVineyard.org.

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