Enterprise Story: Public Art in Eugene

The flourishing city of Eugene, Oregon has always been known for its quirkiness and artistic style, but starting in 1981, performing art centers and art venues were built and a percent-for-art fund was started, “placing Eugene on the leading edge of a national public art movement” (Eugene Public Art Plan).

Eugene now has a ten year cultural plan in effect called the ‘Cultural Policy Review,’ which is to applaud what has been accomplished and to continue to achieve great things through art. The plan will use public art to help achieve the goal of becoming “The World’s Greatest City of the Arts and Outdoors” (Eugene Public Art Plan).

Some forms of public art include writings installed in parking garage stairwells, knits placed onto public objects or buildings, and painted tiles or drawings displayed in parking garages. Public art is created and incorporated into everyday objects and buildings to enhance the wellbeing of the Eugene community.


Step Into Poetry and Stories

One form of art that’s seen in Eugene is writing – specifically at a parking garage. Jeff Petry, the parking services manger of Eugene, contacted Lane Literary Guild, Oregon Poetry Association and Young Writers Association to have their work displayed throughout the stairwells of Overpark garage. This project has several phases.

Phase one of this project is called “Step Into Poetry” and was installed earlier this year in April. The poetry was placed on panels in the north stairwell on each level of the parking garage. Petry says they chose this place to encourage people to take the stairs.

One of many "Step Into Poetry" panels installed at Overpark garage

One of many “Step Into Poetry” panels installed in Overpark garage

The poets whose work is displayed throughout the stairwell are Paulann Petersen, Cecelia Hagen, and Carter McKenzie, Gary Adams, John Witte, Nancy Carol Moody, David Laing, Barbara Drake, and Deborah Narin-Wells.

The second phase of this project is called “Step Into Stories” and was recently installed in the south stairwell of Overpark with the unveiling on November 30th. Mayor Kitty Piercy, Jeff Petry, local writers, and members of the community attended the event. The stairwell was filled with chatter as people gathered to listen. The chatter turned into murmurs as each story was read aloud.

One of the many "Step Into Stories" panels installed in Overpark garage

One of many “Step Into Stories” panels installed in Overpark garage

The authors who work is also displayed in an Overpark stairwell are Bruce Holland-Rogers, Nina Hoffman, Ronan Hall, Hank Alley, Grá Linnaea, Emma Saisslin, Ralph Salisbury, Shannon Applegate, and Dylan Troyer.

Petry speaking at the unveiling of "Step Into Stories"

Petry speaking at the unveiling of “Step Into Stories”

“This [‘Step Into Stories’] plays an artistic and creative way to promote downtown vitality by incorporating art into everyday objects and placements,” says Petry during the unveiling. There was a buzzing of enthusiasm during the unveiling of “Step Into Stories” – it’s apparent that this project is meaningful to the Eugene community.


Profile of a Knitter

Yarn bombs, knit graffitis, yarn tags, and yarn storming. These names sound like video game  jargon, but really they all stand for one innocent activity: placing knits on objects and buildings throughout Eugene, Oregon.

These crafts are knit by a cheery group called The Knotty Knitters. They meet every other Wednesday evening at Divine Cupcake from 6:30 to 8:30. At the meetings, the group usually just hangs out and knits. They welcome anyone to attend the meetings and participate in yarn bombs.

The first yarn bomb was on April 1st, 2010. Several people knit random crafts and placed them within a 3 to 4 block radius. This was when they first recognized themselves as The Knotty Knitters.

“It didn’t look very cohesive,” says Maiya Becker, a member of The Knotty Knitters who also writes for the group’s blog. Her enthusiasm, friendly disposition and artistic style go hand-in-hand with her involvement in enhancing public art through knitting.

In August of 2010, The Knotty Knitters knit garments and trinkets for a yarn bomb, specifically for parking meters around downtown Eugene. Becker says the parking meters are outside of the blocked off area, so people don’t have to pay to see them.

“It was a great way for us to have a uniform art piece,” says Becker, “But still each person could do their own thing.”

Becker learned how to knit from her babysitter when she was a kid. She then forgot it for years until about 10 years ago when she house sat for a woman who in exchange taught Becker how to knit again. The second time she learned to knit, Becker says it really took off for her. Since then, she says she knits like crazy.

The Knotty Knitters’ latest yarn bomb was in November for Veterans Day. They knit little poppies and put them up at the Veterans Memorial Building. This was the first yarn bomb that Becker was unable to participate in due to her busy schedule.

One of the biggest mysteries surrounding The Knotty Knitters’ yarn bombs is how they manage to snugly fit the knits on poles, parking meters, and other objects. Becker says they take measurements of the objects and then send out an email to the rest of the group members. Becker says she knits the garments a bit smaller for a yarn bomb so it can be stretched, but still stay snug around the object. When placing the knits on objects, they use zip ties or velcro or simply sew up the two sides. This process of sewing or tying on the garments only takes about an hour or less.

“If you ever want to get looked at really funny, go measure inanimate objects,” says Becker with a laugh.


Parking Art

An art contest held in early 2012 called “Park Your Art” was open to citizens of the U.S. and Canada. This art was to be displayed both on the inside and outside on the Overpark garage in Eugene, Oregon. Each year there’s a new contest where people create great pieces of art in hopes to have their work displayed on the garage to be viewed by the Eugene community.

One of the contest winners' art displayed at a parking garage

One of the contest winners’ art displayed at a parking garage

“Our parking garages are the canvas, our parking meters are the canvas,” says Jeff Petry, “What does our creative community want to do on them?”

Another form of parking art is bike corrals – a place to lock up your bike. In front of the Kiva, a grocery store located in downtown Eugene, there are bike corrals crafted into the shape of various animals.

The animal bike corrals in front of The Kiva

The animal bike corrals in front of The Kiva

Morning Glory Café also has artistic bike corrals, one of which is a huge bicycle wheel that was built to appear halfway deep into the sidewalk. The other bike corrals are tall blue poles with signs pointing in the direction of parks, art venues, and the U of O campus. There’s even parking meters turned bike corrals downtown Eugene. At first the parking meters were taken off the poles, but the community was upset that so many places to lock up bicycles was removed. So, miniature bicycles with a circle around them were installed on many parking meter poles to bring back those bike corrals.

One of many parking meter bike corral installed downtown Eugene.

One of many parking meter bike corrals installed downtown Eugene.

Petry explains that incorporating art in parking garages helps to add value to the downtown system. Betsy Wolfston, a local artist who contributes to the public art in Eugene, also agrees that art is important.

“I’m not sure most people actually notice public art,” says Wolfston, “But I think once you start putting it up and if you were to take it away, it would feel like a big beautiful tree got cut down.” Wolfston says that art helps to soften the blow of day to day life and has a way of soothing the human experience.

Now something as simple as a parking garage or a bike corral can enhance the daily routine of the Eugene community through art.


Q&A with Betsy Wolfston

Q: How long have you been creating art? How long have you been creating public art for the Eugene community?

A: I’ve been making art for a living for about 20 years. I started in public art about 16 years ago for the Portland and Eugene area. I tend to stay local with public art.

Q: What impact do you hope to have on the community through your art? What has been the community’s response?

A: I would say it often depends where the piece is situated. Think of a piece of downtown, and I think of that as general public, open to everybody. I think of it as adding beauty to the landscape and often the pieces will incorporate some sense of education either through history or marking the landscape or teaching something about the biology of plants. I have a public art piece up in the U of O Law Library, and that feels like the audience has changed – I don’t think of kids coming through there as much. I often put quotes on my pieces, so in that setting of the Law library it feels like they’re allowed to be more profound, maybe a little bit tougher quotes or questions. I feel at that point the audience is more mature, they’re going to law school. Sometimes when I do public art I try to think who will be walking past it and what would be the conversation or interest.

Q: When creating art for a certain area (i.e. the Pearl Street Garage), how do you decide what to create? Is it simply whatever comes to mind, the season, the area, and/or the message you want to send to the community?

A: Sometimes it’s just looking at the physical space and try to think aesthetically what imagery would work in that setting, so some of it is guided by that. With the Pearl Street garage, it was actually one of my first large public art winnings, and at first I was like, “oh shit, a parking garage, how disgusting,” but then I got really excited thinking of covering it in plants. I subliminally had little bicycles hidden everywhere that not all of us drive a car – I play with things like that. I just finished a large installation up at LCC at their new nursing school, and so that was geared more to medicinal plants and antique tools that they would use in the field of medicine. I guess I love trying to research what the audience would find of interest.

Q: Are you currently working on any art projects to be displayed in Eugene? How long does it take you to make an art piece, such as your tiles displayed at the Pearl Street garage?

A: It depends on the size of the budget. The one at LCC – that’s my most current public piece and that was put in last June or July. And that took 6 to 8 months, but sometimes it can take a month or so just working out the drawings. The physical making of it and actually finally installing – probably 6 to 8 months. Some have gigantic budgets of half a million dollars – I don’t really want to tie myself to anything that big. I like being able to get in, making it and leaving. I will probably be doing something for “Food For Lane County” and “Planned Parenthood” in this coming year.

Q: Why do you think art is important in a city/community? Do you hope to see more art displayed at different businesses/areas of Eugene?

A: I always hope to see it growing. I think Portland is a model city for us to exemplify. You can walk within certain communities and go from one art piece to another and I think that’s a really nice experience when you’re living in an urban environment. I just think the more the merrier. I think of public art somewhat being like grand, beautiful trees. What I’ve honestly noticed over my 20 years is: I’m not sure most people actually notice public art, but I think once you start putting it up and if you were to take it away, it would feel like a big beautiful tree got cut down. I think art has this way of soothing what it is to have a human experience and we respond well as citizens if you put beauty around us. It softens the blows of living our day to day. I say if art was to be removed from the world I think we would become incredibly sad.


Step Into Stories: Photo/Multimedia Essay:

-Abby Bochsler

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