Eugene drafts 10-year plan for public art

Eugene drafts 10-year plan for public art »Play Video
Sculpture of Ken Kesey in downtown Eugene, one of the city's 198 pieces of public art.

EUGENE, Ore. -- A group of artists and city leaders in Eugene are putting the finishing touches on a 10-year plan for public art.
The group is funded through a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. City leaders have used that money to hire a consultant -- Barney & Worth, Inc. of Portland -- and research ways to "weave art into the fabric of the community."
Already, Eugene has 198 pieces of public art, from the dancing frogs at the Hult Center to the Ken Kesey statue downtown and the "Big Red" sculpture underneath the Washington-Jefferson Bridge.

"People said they want to see more of it in the parks, more of it in their neighborhoods. People want it where they walk," said Mary Unruh, director of Downtown Initiative for Visual Arts (DIVA) and a member of the committee drafting the public art plan.

The first works of public art in Eugene were created during the summer of 1974. That year, Eugene held a symposium on sculpture that drew artists from all over the country.
The piece known as "Big Red" is among those works.
Since then, Eugene has tried to expand public art through what's called the "percent-for-art" fee.
That fee, established in 1981, is attached to major public construction projects, and the money is used for sculptures, murals, paintings and other public art.
But having public art funding tied to construction poses a problem for arts supporters. There's only new art when there is new construction, and with the downturn in the economy, few new projects are being created.
The consultant's report found that Eugene dedicates fewer resources to public art than many comparable cities, which have an average of two city personell dedicated to public art. Eugene has several employees who work part-time on public art initiatives.
"A lot of the midsized cities have a budget of about $300,000. Our budget, well, we don't really have one," said Theresa Sizemore, the events manager at the city-owned Hult Center and a coordinator for the art plan.
One goal of the plan is to establish a vision for public art that can be used to convince donors to support various projects.
"When you have that consistent funding, you can leverage that funding with grants, foundations, private donors. Then you actually have a very viable program," Sizemore said.
The plan also calls for more ambitious works and greater diversity of projects. Some critics of Eugene's public art have said the city has an abundance of bronze sculptures of well-known people -- including Ken Kesey, Rosa Parks, Eugene Skinner -- and should try something new.
Supporters point to the downtown Eugene Public Library as an example of "doing it right." The library features an array of art, from stained glass windows to a funky wood-and-metal structure that tells the story of "Three Billy Goats Gruff."
"It's one of our shining examples," Sizemore said.
Isaac Marquez, the city's recently-hired visual arts coordinator, said he envisions Eugene becoming a stand-out city for public art in the next ten years.
"Upon coming into Eugene, you'll see art at all the major gateways, so we really make a statement to the visitor," he said. "You may even see temporary exhibits through the summer where you can come out and enjoy with your family."
Arts supporters said they involved some 400 community members in the planning process.