By William Kennedy

Through a mix of virtual and in-person experiences, the fourth-annual Visual Arts Week returns to Eugene in early August. Planners hope the 2021 event fosters dialogue around the challenges of the past year for artists, art organizations, and the broader community, stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the country-wide reckoning with racial injustice.

Visual Arts Week—a partnership between the City of Eugene Cultural Services, Lane Arts Council, and the Maude Kerns Arts Center—also offers opportunities for artists and fans of the visual arts to engage in a variety of mediums. There will be workshops, street art, and studio tours, among many other activities all across the city.

One goal for the event “is to be an anchor for visual arts in our community,” says Kate Ali, public art manager with the City of Eugene. “Even in these really tough times, people are hungry to see what’s out there. Visual arts have always been an opportunity to reflect on what’s happening.”

Several artists slated for this year’s celebration received the Arts Grant and Artist Grant Award from Lane Arts Council for the 2020-21 funding cycle. One such artist is Uyen-thi Nguyen. The arts grant supported Nguyen’s project “A Portrait of Cottage Grove,” a series of richly detailed and highly personal drawings and oil paintings depicting citizens of the small southern Lane County town. Nguyen hopes to publish her work as an art book and publicly exhibit it through a variety of venues, including those provided by the Visual Arts Week celebration.

All the artists included in the festival “are touching on sensitive topics,” Ali says. “There are so many stories that come along with the kind of art that we’re seeing. We’re trying to re-examine our locale and the role that art plays in telling those stories.”

Michael Fisher, executive director of the Maude Kerns Arts Center, says his organization contributes arts education to the event, providing “opportunities for people to engage with and get creative with the arts,” and highlighting different skills, practices, and mediums. Most workshops presented by Maude Kerns are free, though some do include a small studio fee.

“We try to have a spectrum of different types of offerings,” says Jessica Watson, First Friday ArtWalk and events coordinator with Lane Arts Council. “The real goal is to make it accessible and affordable for people to participate.”

2020 Mayor’s Art Show installations are put in during the evening of Thursday, Aug. 6 before the start of Visual Arts Week.

Watson says Lane Arts Council emphasizes individual artists, where they work, and their creative process. Historically, Watson adds, Visual Arts Week has kicked off with First Friday ArtWalk and a guided tour, including the Mayor’s Art show and the Salon des Refusés.

“Last year, that didn’t happen because we were pivoting because of COVID,” Watson says. This year, the ArtWalk kick-off returns, but with no guided tour and in accordance with all COVID-19 safety guidelines.

This year’s festival also brings the announcement of the new public art to be featured in the Lane County Farmers Market permanent covered facility, which will be located in the renovated Park Blocks area in downtown Eugene. Several new temporary art installations will also be unveiled.

Another new addition to this year’s celebration is a storytelling project developed in collaboration with several local arts groups, including WordCrafters, a Lane County nonprofit literary organization. The project collects the stories of the local BIPOC community and translates them into a variety of visual mediums, similar to the Paper Monuments projects in cities like New Orleans.

Even after a year of pandemic, with arts events cancelled and galleries closed, the local visual arts scene remains strong, Fisher says. “There’s a diversity in visual arts for the population of our town,” he says, and this past year has shown the resiliency of our arts community.

Ali agrees. We have a “phenomenally diverse group of artists that live here,” she says, and the visual arts are a great opportunity to reflect on an extraordinarily challenging year.

“That’s going to be important as we move into this year,” Ali says, “processing everything we’ve gone through.”

For more information about Visual Arts Week and the complete schedule of events, go to the City of Eugene website or