“I’ve thought a lot about what ‘essential’ means,” says Michael Fisher, executive director of the Maude Kerns Art Center.
This is not the kind of statement he would have made in an interview before the pandemic. But now he has set out to re-examine the functioning of the whole center.
March 16, 2020 was the day I realized that things were not going as usual. That morning, I interviewed for a teaching position in art history at Lane Community College, then traveled to Salem to review an art exhibit at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. By the time I got back to Eugene, I learned that the Salem show was going to close, and LCC would soon follow suit. I had done an educational demonstration for work that was about to be retracted and reviewed art that could no longer be seen.
Every business or arts organization I’ve spoken to recently has had similar stories, although their ups and downs relate to the year and the past nine months, not a day. John Weber, executive director of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, said his biggest challenge was “the utter unpredictability of the virus.” Even since reopening this fall, the museum “is constantly re-evaluating what can be done in person and what needs to stay at bay,” he says.
JSMA Communications Officer Debbie Williamson-Smith said some of the museum’s biggest obstacles “have become opportunities.” For example, the museum launched Matterport, “a 360-degree virtual tour experience that’s the best thing to do after you’re there.” His view of seeing the half-full glass regarding virtual reality available on the museum’s website reflects a global appropriation of digital technology.
Karin Clarke, owner of the Karin Clarke gallery, quickly embarked on the adventure by organizing tours of the gallery via Facebook Live. But, she says, it took a while to get used to having “a camera in my face.”
She did something else amazing at the start of 2021. She opened a second gallery – Karin Clarke at the Gordon – and hired new employees. It’s been very stressful for a while, she admits, but the small expansion store of Fifth Street Market has proven to be effective in providing foot traffic to her largest gallery in nearly 20 years on Willamette.
Mike Bray is co-director, with Chelsea Couch, of Ditch Projects in Springfield. He remembers leaving the choice to the artists: postpone their scheduled exhibitions or continue but without having openings. Vernissages are very social events where people come together to talk and celebrate art, and just to have a good time.
All of the artists scheduled for the shows chose to wait, Bray says.
In December, with empty programming slots, the Contemporary Art Gallery and Workspace organized and held its very first Ditch Market. It featured 23 artists and arts organizations, it was a great success and Bray thinks it could become an annual event.
Fred Tepfer, board member of the Maude Kerns Art Center, said that after the center closed due to the initial tenure, Fisher, the executive director, presented a “passionate case” to the board for not not have remained asleep. Then, in just three days, Fisher and digital media coordinator Ben Davis (both started as interns at MKAC about 10 years ago) put on a full exhibit of around 80 artists on their website. This was the art centre’s first fully digital exhibition. Since then, all gallery art exhibitions have been put online and made accessible to viewers.
Having to cancel Art in the Vineyard – twice – has hit MKAC hard. The annual fundraising event provides more financial support than any other. The center, like other nonprofits in the city, has partly managed to stay afloat by receiving help from organizations such as the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, as well as donors. private.
The key, says Fisher, is to remain flexible and responsive to change. “Plan A, plan B, plan C” has been his mantra throughout this past year. When one thing fails or something changes, we move on to the next shot.
Perhaps the most visible loss for Eugene’s art scene over the past year has been the cancellation of the First Friday Artwalks. These lively events have been absent for most of the pandemic. Jessica Watson, Lane Art Council’s First Friday Artwalk coordinator, said they are back now and each site is operating at its own level of comfort.
Lane Arts Council executive director Stacey Ray says she heard from people last year. They tell him that they feel the loss. She says that after listening to them, she is sure of one thing: in 2022, “people are hungry” for shared experiences.
This was great news for Eugene Contemporary Art when he received a grant that allowed him to acquire the physical space on 8th Avenue for the ANTI-AESTHETIC gallery. The grant was to last two years, but only one exhibit was shown in the space before it closed. And then ECA paid rent for six months, using their grant money, for a gallery they couldn’t use.
However, something interesting happened when the ECA reopened. Rather than allowing walk-in visits, they asked people to schedule appointments for 30 minutes at a time. The procedure was designed for safety reasons, but visitors were still left for a full 30 minutes, says ECA founder ECA Courtney Stubbert. Fewer people attended, but those who did had substantial experiences.
“The quality, not the quantity,” says Stubbert.