For several years, Eugene’s official slogan has marketed “A Great City for the Arts and Outdoors.” Most locals would say the slogan also applies to greater Lane County as well, to communities reaching from the Cascades to the Pacific coastline. Now what if we focus on just the arts portion of that statement, where do local artists fit into that picture?
For months, a volunteer coalition of local artists and arts advocates has been huddling in close quarters and, more recently, on teleconference screens. The coalition calls itself the Creative Sector Strategy group (CSS). They’ve taken on a mission to shape and better define the scale of local arts activities and their impact on our lives.
Liora Sponko, CSS member and former executive director of the Lane Arts Council, has long been an advocate of building strong creative arts communities across the region. Recently, she has been focused on promoting the bedrock idea that the arts are essential to our lives, increasing the economic and social vitality of our communities.
But therein lies an often-overlooked issue.
“Unfortunately, rhetoric around the arts is often limited to one of scarcity,” Sponko says. “Some may feel that the arts are only something we do for fun on Saturday night. Others may think that artists don’t mind volunteering their time since they are passionate about what they do. We tend to put the arts in a cute little box and forget the true impact it has on our lives.”
It’s hardly surprising, but the CSS has observed that many, if not most, local artists feel undervalued and underpaid. Artists often work multiple jobs just to cover the bills. Many are hidden away, creating artwork in relative obscurity. Most CSS members would argue that we need to elevate the public status and income of our artists.
Many arts advocates envision shifting the basic paradigm from art as window dressing to art as essential. “We have the opportunity to transform our rhetoric from one of scarcity to one of abundance, from limitations to possibilities,” Sponko says.
The group has plans for a media campaign to improve public awareness of local art resources. A Facebook group for local artists has been established to help facilitate connections and support across all creative disciplines. Strategies for providing local artists with professional development resources and funding are key components of other CSS game plans. And CSS is pursuing research in community arenas, like regional economic forecasting, employment sector analysis, and connecting to stakeholder groups that can offer improved business opportunities for artists.
Over the next six months, the CSS team anticipates discerning a set of goals and creating a messaging strategy to promote them. It’s a safe assumption that those goals will be refinements of their current thinking: increase prosperity and success for local arts and arts-associated businesses, build a culture of health and vitality through arts education and artistic exploration, define the community identity through arts experiences and stories, and support the community by building an arts hub that serves all artistic disciplines.
The CSS team has plans to bring a strategist on board to head up the group’s efforts in the future. They also expect to firm up a wide variety of partnerships with community leaders and organizations that can help bolster the creative arts sector.
In the view of many local artists and arts advocates, it’s time to shape a new community vision for the arts in Eugene and greater Lane County. It’s time to consider the arts not simply as a side industry for the few. Instead, we must consider the meaningful contributions local artists are making to all our lives.
What does it mean to be a creative artist in this community? Local artists weigh in.
Suzanne Haag, choreographer, dance instructor, and founder/director of Instaballet: “Being an artist in this community means you are in good company. I feel supported and inspired by the network of creatives around me and grateful that this is my artistic home.”
JC Geiger, author, instigator, and impresario: “Artists here are dreamers and doers—unvarnished. No elite towers to climb, no paparazzi. . . . Like [Ken] Kesey, many resist quiet organization. Put us in a box or too many sit-down meetings and we’ll squirm. Launch a worthwhile project and minds will come buzzing, willing to work.”
Jorah LaFleur, poet, stage personality, teaching artist: “To be an artist in a community so wealthy with artists and lacking in patronage is like going to a great potluck and discovering that way too many people have brought a special dessert—there is great sweetness and a real need for more sustenance.”
Cedar Caredio, resident wood and stone sculptor at Eugene Sculpture Group: “It’s frustrating that our community so broadly needs, yet seldom provides, opportunities for local visual artists to create public art that reflects our unique history, character, and flavor.”
Siri Vik, singer and vocal coach: “Eugene is a place where performers can find a rich balance of music opportunity and family life; it’s also a place with many separate cells of artists and audiences that sometimes act as closed circuits to artistic cross pollination.”
Michael Kay Klindt aka “Scoob,” hip hop, soul and R&B artist, music producer, rapper, MC: “What’s significant about the creative arts here is that they provide an open platform for different ideas and genres, with permission to experiment without feeling rejected for being different.”
Paula Goodbar, photographic artist and creativity coach: “The local art scene is a huge support group for artists that provides a deep bond between artists. It fosters inspiration and understanding and it keeps us doing what we are meant to be doing—creating and sharing art.”