It might seem strange to think of government as a purveyor of the arts, but there are many places throughout the world where local governments play a pivotal role in making art accessible. Eugene, of course, is such a place as well.
A walk along the Ruth Bascom River Path System or through downtown reveals art on almost every corner, from murals to sculptures to big displays of the planets. Eugeneans have for decades made art a priority. The Hult Center for the Performing Arts wouldn’t be publicly funded without the support of the community, and the City’s Cultural Services Division’s mission of supporting the public’s vision for a thriving arts and cultural sector wouldn’t be as strong without that support, either.
There are myriad ways in which this support manifests throughout Eugene. One of the oldest is the Percent for Art Ordinance of 1981, which established that a function of government is to foster arts and the development of artists. The ordinance is triggered when any building, park, mall or other construction project is more than $50,000 (excluding public thoroughfares). Oregon passed its own Percent for Art in Public Places legislation a few years prior for state projects of more than $100,000.
The projects are important to create a sense of place and affinity for the community. Public art pieces boost local economies, provide professional opportunities for artists and enlivens places that people interact with daily.
“Our quality of life directly relates to a way a city looks,” Cultural Services Public Art Manager Kate Ali says.
Soon, Eugene will welcome the addition of a handful of new public art pieces funded by taxpayers through Eugene’s percent for art ordinance. Construction projects at Campbell Community Center, Echo Hollow Pool and the Downtown Riverfront Park are nearing completion, and along with sparkling new buildings and green spaces there will be installments that reflect not only the people who use those spaces but our regional culture.
“I think the field has gone much more toward addressing the places where the art is going,” said artist Pete Goldlust, who has been commissioned along with his wife, Melanie Germond, to create the art installments at Campbell and Echo Hollow. “Reflecting the community and having some connection to it is important. That is a big part of what we do. We research the place it is going to be.”
The couple didn’t have to travel far for inspiration. They live with their two sons in Eugene, and their local knowledge has helped them create pieces that truly reflect the area. For Campbell Center, they designed several different elements that include insets into the concrete, wall pieces and kinetic sculptures that will move in the wind. Much of the inspiration for the flowing design came from a mixture of photos from patrons at Campbell, Eugene’s reputation as a counter-culture hotspot in the 1960s and ’70s as well as the vast camas prairies that used to cover the Willamette Valley hundreds of years ago. Goldlust and Germond have playfully named the entrance piece “Camas Kaleidoscope”.
“We don’t do single, emblematic things,” he said. “We are more of a kitchen sink, throw in all the influences kind of team.
“We just enjoy the combinations and doing an overall installation using all the influences and what the clash of those brings out.”
Ali says she loves their playful quality to their work.
“They’re really unifying the spaces,” she says. “They’ve thought about how you move through the space. The art is going to become a part of the environment.”
Goldlust says their strength is playing with lots of elements, but they aren’t doing these pieces alone. They’re mostly graphic designers, and these days he says he rarely even uses a physical sketchbook for his art. It’s mainly digital, which means he needs partners who know how to take their visions and turn them into real-world objects. They’ve worked with local metal fabricator Matt Bernie to create the wall pieces at both sites as well as the kinetic installment at Campbell.
“Matt just opened the world up,” Goldlust says. “Having that type of expertise has been amazing to be around. It’s pushed us in new directions.”
The couple has sourced a lot of the fabrication to other local artists and businesses. Water- and laser-cut pieces at both facilities were done by Superior Steel Fabrication, a small business in town, and glass work at Echo Hollow was done by local artist Jeff Ballard. This collaboration with other manufacturers and artists means the money is being spread throughout the community.
“It’s clear that Pete and Melanie are gifting this to the community,” Ali says. “They’re giving so much for the budget. They want to show their investment for this place.”
The selection process for public art commissions doesn’t happen in a vacuum, either. Ali helped to create a diverse committee of people to oversee bids. The architect on both projects, facility and building managers, landscape architects, community members and artists were brought together to review applications. Ali says there was an importance for the project to stay in Oregon.
“One of the things I love is that diverse group coming together and participating in civic discourse,” she says.
The whole process takes months or even years, but in the end the community will be left with indelible pieces of art that genuinely reflect its values. Visual arts provide experiences that enrich and enhance our social and physical environment, and as more projects begin, Eugeneans can look forward to even more accessible art.