The Museum of Unfine Art
by Mike Hulter, EDN
16 years ago, Shawn Mediaclast came through Eugene on his way to Portland, intent on moving either there or the Bay Area, but on the way through he stopped in Eugene. It was August, and the calm beauty of the setting, and the relaxed interactions with the passing locals was enough to make him stay. Five years later he was encouraged by a friend to start Museum Records with his extensive record collection and his collection of various odditys and whatnot. Taking the advice “The Museum” has since become a staple in the indie artist community and an encouraging example of what a true community can to do inspire and encourage.
The Museum of Unfine Art carries in its title a resistance to commercialized airbrushed perfection, and the store itself carries a very personal and genuine vibe. Ten years in business, the Museum of Unfine Art has been a labor of love for Shawn Mediaclast, owner, originator, and only guy behind the counter. Built on 12 hour days 7 days a week, and a dedication to the local artistic community, Shawn has managed to present over a thousand local artists in the last ten years, netting the local artistic community 25 to 35 thousand dollars in sales over the last ten years.
“To varying degrees just about every species, including humans, has evolved with cooperation being as important a factor as competitiveness for its biological and ‘cultural’ development.” He said at one point, reflecting on the three years of struggle.
“Being able to work with local artists on the presentation level has been an inspiration for them and for myself.” Says Shawn in reference to the way he learned how to present the artist while the artist learned how to present him or herself. Word of mouth and mutual promotion has been both a business tactic and a community builder.
We spoke of many things over the course of our conversation; we spoke of America’s obsession with individuality and how it has caused an extremely pervasive aloneness. We spoke of how moving away from monetary addiction is a nice ideal, but ideals are formed in the bathtub and need to be modified and adjusted to be applicable to the business realm.
Shawn has managed to keep the Museum of Unfine Art a unique and accessible spot which speaks to America’s true nature as being an extroverted oddity. But as he put it, “You need a product and a business plan. You need to sell things that people may desire to buy. Otherwise you may not get them through the door. And once they’re inside they may not recognize anything.” The first thing he bought was a neon sign for cigarettes. Something people recognize, and much of America still seems to need.
Shawn attributes his success to working 80 hours a week for the first six months, offering the cheapest cigarettes around, and developing good will and word of mouth by networking and promoting local artists. It wasn’t until two and a half years into it that Shawn felt his business would survive. “At that point I had become recognized and respected as part of the community.” Not everyone has been a hundred percent supportive; some friends have become distant, considering his success as buying in to a dysfunctional system. “Money is part of the system we were born into, and if you’re not taking part, if your main goal is to dismiss those addicted to the dollar, well, that’s at least 90% of the world, and there are ways to take part without becoming a money glutton.” Shawn said.
Shawn looks busy behind the counter there, wearing a hat that says “I play Techno For Hoochies.” Shawn is also co-owner and the Friday Night DJ at the CowFish, which used the Museum of Unfine Art as a foothold and economic base during its early days. He looks harried but happy amidst his slightly tumultuous shop.
Today the walls hold 60 or 70 art pieces representing the works of 7 or 8 local artists. The most recent additions are from a family that regularly does compilation pieces, featuring the parents and two children working on the same canvas. The outcome is loud colorful creativity that feels extremely real and personal. If you haven’t been in, do, and find yourself a museum piece to take home.
Museum of Unfine Art and Record Store
537 Willamette st.
Eugene, Or 97401