Directing History

Jim at the front door of the Springfield Museum.

Jim at the front door of the Springfield Museum.

By Casey Pechan

Jim Cupples has a sense for changing tides. And when the tide really began to change, he moved from Brooklyn New York to Eugene, Oregon.

Director of the Springfield Museum since October of last year, Cupples left his contracted, union job in New York after noticing a transition in the way people consume news.

“Around 2004 I noticed that I was getting my newspaper online and realized that hey, this industry is changing quickly,” he says with a shrug. “I might be in the days of horse and carriage when the car is coming along.”

For about ten years before he made the move west, Cupples worked nights in New York, fixing and managing the printing presses for the New York Times, New York Daily News, and New York Daily Post. The job runs in his family, both his father and uncle worked on printing presses for most of their careers. So when his service in the Marines came to an end, a solid union job was waiting.

“I’m the only person in my family to go to college, so it wasn’t like when people think of New York,” Cupples says. “Wall Street and Broadway, those things were never a part of my life. I could have been anywhere with blue collar living, that’s where I’m from.

Working nights freed up Cupples’ days, and so during the day he often explored NYC’s independent film scene. He developed a growing fascination for the art, even taking a smattering of cinema classes when he could. “The one area where I used New York properly was film,” he says.

This proved fortuitous for his love life. While taking a film class Cupples met Carrie, who is now his wife, who at the time worked as librarian for the New York Public Library. Six years ago, with a shrinking newspaper industry at their backs the two left New York City and looked west for a fresh start after falling in love with the landscape of Oregon.

Now Cupples sits in his office, where he directs the Springfield museum, half a block away from where his wife works at the Springfield Library.

“I see some strong winds at downtown’s back,” Cupples says. “I wanted to be a part of what was going on down here. There’s some really good infrastructure,” he says with a grin.

Running a non-profit is nothing new to Cupples. After finishing up his political science degree at University of Oregon, he directed the Habitat for Humanity resale store in West Eugene.

“I definitely like being tied into community, I like knowing my neighbors, I like knowing local businesses,” he says.

A strong attachment to community life plus his passion for the creative arts is what wound up motivating Cupples to leave his position at Habitat for Humanity. Now he enthusiastically greets visitors, conducts tours, an constantly searches for new ideas for exhibits to display in the small first floor of the museum, with its windows facing Main street in the hopes of enticing passersby.  As Downtown Springfield continues to improve its image, Cupples hopes that the museum will be an integral part of that change.

And just as the newspaper business continues to transition and move forward, Cupples’ believes that museums have to adapt to a fast paced world as well. “Museums have to go through a transition…[to become] much more community oriented. One thing I am constantly trying to do is make the museum more available to groups,” he says.

His first step to making that happen for the Springfield Museum happened during his second week in office. After watching two families walk out of the museum upon hearing that a two-dollar cover fee was required, Cupples dropped the cover fee and has instead looked to donors and sponsors to make up the cost.

“I did some quick back of the envelope math and said heck, if I get a couple sponsors a month for each exhibit, I can generate that revenue through sponsorships,” he says.

A $2 cover fee may seem like pocket change to many, but Cupples says he’s aware that for many Springfield residents that means a new spiral notebook for their child, a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. And those who would rather spend their two dollars on those necessities should still be welcome to come explore what the museum has to offer when it comes to education, history, and community events.

Cupples hopes to rotate exhibits at least once a month. He is constantly searching for artists and inspiration taking cues from the San Diego Museum and the Portland Art Museum. The top floor of the Springfield Museum houses a life size plastic couch with the characters of The Simpsons all seated, along with extensive memorabilia from Springfield’s early history. But the bottom floor, with its large bay windows facing Main Street, and small gift shop tucked in back Cupples will keep in constant fluctuation. History may be unchanging but there is no reason a museum needs to be.

All contributions are welcome to Cupples and he hopes to soon see the museum as a growing and organic part of the community, showing exhibits locals request and offering a central place to congregate. His director position is a far cry from the roofing he did growing up, the strenuous work of the Marines, and the painstaking and laborious nights fixing massive printing machines.

“When I think about this job, or other jobs I go back to the same old cliché, there’s no heavy lifting, and all the work is indoors,” he says.

Sitting comfortably in his chair, surrounded by old photos and books, sharing stories of Springfield’s history, Jim Cupples seems both at home and energized.

“He has a new focus for the museum, says longtime docent and volunteer Paco Schiraldi. “It’s geared more towards people and places and events in Springfield rather than the visual art we were concentrating on before. So it’s a lot more fun getting exhibits together.”

Just off to the right of where Paco sits in the gift shop, stacks of posters advertising March Madness, this months newest installation lay waiting to be distributed. Soon the bottom floor of the museum will be covered in vintage posters of famous U of O basketball coaches and players, influential coaches from Springfield high, memorabilia and stories of unforgettable moments in local basketball.

The unveiling will take place during the first Friday Art Walk, where community members will filter through to sample wine, beer, and crackers, while having the chance to meet a few of the coaches themselves whose records, letterman jackets, and stories line the walls. Just another way Cupples hopes to make the museum truly come to life.

“I don’t want people saying yeah the Springfield Museum is good for a small museum, I want people saying; yeah I had a great experience at the Springfield Museum I went and did trivia night there and it was so much fun, or yeah that’s where my Stich N’ Bitch group meets,” Cupples says.

If Cupples is able to get all that he wants, Springfield residents will soon be marveling at how their small town museum became was able to pull such impressive artists, while still not charging a dime for admissions.

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