a not-so-conclusive guide to… Public Art: Eugene’s Multi-Million Dollar Commitment to Art and Society

In the Spring of 2010, I created a visual and textual field guide to public art in the downtown area of Eugene, Oregon as a requirement for a course entitled Art and Society. Below is an introduction to the public art policy and process in Eugene, and a documentation of some of the process of putting together the field guide. 

Here is the link to my final field guide.

Intro to Public Art (Eugene)

Since moving to Eugene in September, I have often been surprised by and certainly enjoyed the commitment to public art that is evident around the city. From statues in Broadway Plaza to murals on 5th street, when walking around town, I always feel the need to keep my eyes open for the local art of this city. However, in looking at the Eugene City web site, there is not a conclusive guide to this art. So I have taken it upon myself to document and write up the public art of Eugene.

Public art is a major part of Eugene’s identity as “the world’s greatest city of the arts and outdoors,” it’s also been a popular discussion since a fund for public art was incorporated into budgetary legislation in 1981, and the Eugene Public Art Master Plan was released in 2009.

Public art is defined by the city of Eugene as art that can be  integrated into a site or building, two-dimensional, found in parks, trails, and gathering places, schools, and streetscapes.

According to the Public Art Master Plan, public art in Eugene fits into the fifth goal of the ten-year cultural plan of Eugene that was established in 2007: “Integrate arts and culture into the fabric of Eugene’s downtown and neighborhood” (Public Art master plan meeting notes).

As of the master plan in 2009, Eugene’s public art collection included 167 works.

Part of the plan included a community survey of 335 community members. Ninety per cent of those surveyed were determined to be very familiar with the public art of Eugene. This was determined by their guesstimate about the number of art works in Eugene, and the concentrated areas of the public art. The participants agreed that the Eugene Public Library was an example of best practices of public art for Eugene, and overall felt that public art should be more innovative.

The current mission of the public art program of Eugene is “to ensure that the City of Eugene’s public art collection be of the highest quality, and when possible, of historical significance; and to ensure that the City of Eugene’s Visual Arts programs are managed with integrity, consistency, and in a professional manner” (Public Art Program web site).

My personal interest in public art is its engaging quality. A lot of the emphasis that is placed upon public art is its aesthetic addition to everyday public spaces. However, often when I see public art, I will walk up to it, look around at it, and read the plaque that sometimes accompanies it. I think the art that we choose to represent our cities and our communities is very fascinating; it exemplifies our priorities, our beliefs, our activities.

Public Art in Eugene is often funded through the 1% for Art program that sets aside one per cent of the capital construction budgets over $500,000 to commission or acquire art objects for public places. Eugene also has a grant program to aide those who want to initiate public art. The Neighborhood Grants program’s purpose is “to encourage City residents to collaboratively identify and actively participate in making improvements in their neighborhoods. Community involvement is a key component of the program and is encouraged by requiring a 50/50 match [of funds], coordination with your neighborhood association, and documentation of support” (NMG Guidelines 2010). To that end, anyone who wishes to propose a project must be a resident of the neighborhood in which the project is proposed. Grand funding ranges from $250 to $25,000.





Field Guide: Journal 1

For Art and Society this term, we are each working on a field guide of an art world/environment. I have chosen to research and report on Public Art in Eugene. You can see my introduction to the field and my proposed project here.

I’m keeping a Diigo list of resources regarding the policy of public art, and public art resources for Oregon, and more specifically, Eugene. This list can be accessed here.

So far, I have chosen to focus mainly on the art collections found at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, and the Eugene Public Library. These are two of the main sites that the Eugene City website suggests for viewing the city’s public art collection, and they fit nicely within my geographic parameters.

One thing I have been contemplating is whether I want to focus on only commissioned public art. There are more than enough commissioned pieces in my geographic area to write a field guide on those. However, one definition for public art that I have latched on to says that “public art is any work of art or design that is created by an artist specifically to be sited in a public space…Public art can make strangers talk, children ask questions, and calm a hurried life” (http://nnpaf.org/what_is_art.html). That last part is what I really enjoy about public art: that it is constantly making me pause to contemplate the art, regardless of where I am going. Often, the art that makes me stop in my tracks is not necessarily commissioned work.

I am planning to take a walk this week, and take some pictures of the art I see, and I am hoping that this will help me focus my field guide.

Field Guide: Journal 2

Introduction to the public art at the Eugene Public Library

When I first moved to Eugene, I spent quite a bit of time at the Eugene Library. My apartment is only a couple of blocks away, and because I did not have Internet access at first, I would go to the library to check my email, study, and, of course, read. Visits to the library were a common happening while I was growing up, and this library supports that habit very well. The library was finished in 2002, and has a commissioned art collection worth over $200,000.

The library’s art collection process was a common one in Eugene: a committee was formed, community meetings were planned, and a call for artists was released. About sixty artists submitted proposals for art, and seven were chosen. Each project contributes to the idea that the library is a literary haven, a multi-generational gathering place, a reincarnation of a historical structure, a place to expand the mind and imagination, and a collection of the community.

-The section on the Eugene Library will focus on each of the seven commissioned artists projects, with visual representation.

Field Guide: Journal 3

Today I began to lay out my field guide in InDesign

I quickly realized that even the 100-200 words that I wrote for each piece is too long, especially when I’m hoping to incorporate pictures for each piece and still keep the book small enough to carry around easily (if it were to ever be published, as field guides should be).

But I’m really enjoying being able to take my research and synthesis and put it into a visual element, in a way that makes sense to me. It’s that curatorial effect that allows you to take everything you’ve learned, process it, and output something creative. Especially because my field guide is about art, it’s nice to be able to feel like I am contributing to the creative process, even if it’s through a digital medium.

Field Guide: Journal 4

During my walk around town, I took pictures of the little brass animal sculptures along Broadway street, as well as a couple of murals.

But now I have to figure out what to do with the art that I cannot find any research on…I am currently trying to find some information about the brass animals- perhaps about the artist or when they were installed- but there wasn’t any information about them on the street near the sculptures, and I haven’t found anything online yet.

The field guides that I have read are special because they offer inside information on the world they are describing. But is it enough to say that these sculptures are here? To have images of them? Hopefully I will find some more information.

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