Taking Art Seriously: Eugene Contemporary Art and the WAVE Gallery
“Serious art has always been an exploration and serious art will always be an exploration. One of the major features of contemporary art is that it is the exploration of what is new and what can be new and the imagination of the 21st century.”
~Wes Hurd, ECA’s Director of Education
Founded in February 2012, Eugene Contemporary Art (ECA) has a unique vision: to provide a space for conversations between artists and the local community on the act of making art. Courtney Stubbert and Wes Hurd started ECA when they realized that Eugene had an abundance of artistic talent but no platform from which to support that talent. Stubbert says,
“You have all these grads coming out of the MFA program at the University of Oregon and all their shows are in Portland, because there’s nothing to host them in Eugene. Outside of school there’s nowhere for them to show their work.”
While planning ECA, Stubbert and Hurd received significant encouragement from BA and MFA graduates. The idea is to have both a contemporary art center and a residency space. While Eugene has a plethora of galleries, those galleries often do not survive.
Stubbert explains that,
“Commerical galleries in Eugene usually don’t work. Our community needs something different. Eugene’s art culture wants to be all things so there’s this idea that everyone can do it. So there’s no bar or standard of quality or context for artmaking. There’s no conversation about what’s going on nationally or internationally.”
Especially in the current recession, using a gallery as a storefront to sell artwork can be a problematic business plan. This fact was recently discovered by the WAVE Gallery in the Whiteaker area. After being open for a year and realizing it was too hard to exist purely as a store, the WAVE decided to close its doors.
Fortunately for ECA, WAVE’s closed doors opened new ones. The owner of the WAVE, Sabrina Jackson, was well acquainted with ECA and turned over her gallery to the local non-profit on July 1. She will remain active with the gallery as a volunteer and contributor. Stubbert says,
“We’ve known Sabrina for about a year, came to her events at the WAVE, talked about art in Eugene. When she was ready to move on she called us.”
Hurd, the Director of Education for ECA, had been actively involved with the WAVE. This May he held a showing at the WAVE entitled ““Abstract // Uneven // Uncertain,” a visual exploration of “the psychological conditions promoted by the tension between apparent but temporal fulfillment of human desire and emptiness.” Hurd also presented a series of talks at the WAVE in May on the subject, “What is Art?”.
ECA’s acquisition of the WAVE is crucial to their goals. The benefits of having a physical space to host communal activities, discussions, and exhibitions will aid in their mission.
“Acquiring the WAVE space is really significant for us,” Stubbert says.
“Before that, besides from having a presence online, the only thing we did was a lecture series done by [Wes Hurd]. That actually gave us some encouragement. It was very well attended and gave us inspiration to do more.”
For both Stubbert and Hurd, the idea of ECA is grounded in their experience of being artists in Eugene. Stubbert explains,
“A lot of it comes out of having lived in Eugene for a long time and seeing what’s going on in the art community, seeing all these galleries fail time and time again. I saw all these students coming out of a really great program [at the University of Oregon] and not having anywhere to go. Being artists ourselves, we know there isn’t a lot of space to go.”
Stubbert and Hurd hope that using the WAVE Gallery as a physical epicenter for art in Eugene will change this trend. Their biggest project in the works right now is having a residency program where local artists can both show their work and also share the process of making art with locals.
“The residency idea came out of the space itself,” Stubbert says.
“The question was, how do we want to use it and what can we do? Having a gallery wasn’t as high a priority as having a meeting space. Having a space to host lectures, gatherings, artists—that was more on our radar. The space itself—seeing other galleries and seeing what is involved—we both had full time jobs and the idea of operating a store front was daunting. The previous owners would be there all day and have no action. The idea was to make art production something the community could witness. We want to open the studio to conversations between the artist and the viewer while the artist is in process.”
For Hurd, the conversation between artist and viewer is fundamental to the role art — especially contemporary art — should play in any community. Hurd says,
“Contemporary art has a stigma attached to it, and education is very important to the relationship between contemporary artists and the community.”
For Hurd, getting rid of this stigma the average viewer has about contemporary art is personal.
“People have expectations about contemporary art. They walk into galleries and say, ‘This is art?’ For me, I had that same reaction in the 1980′s when I walked into an art gallery. I asked the gallery owner about the works and he just blew me off.”
Hurd talked about his frustration with many contemporary artists and gallery owners these days. They seem to desire to be above dialogue. But Hurd feels differently:
“I want people here to have a different experience of contemporary art [at ECA]. One of ECA’s major tentets is education—offering discussions, education, videos, lectures. We want to raise the understanding of art in our community. That is important.”
To the end of creating a community dialogue, “money and commercial sales have to be taken off the table,” Stubbert says. ECA is looking for businesses and foundations that want to partner with ECA for start-up expenses or sponsor quarterly artist residencies. Their hopes are to have an artist residency four times a year, lasting 4-6 weeks each. This residency would give local artists the ability to pursue their craft in Eugene, rather than relocate. The residency would also have the occasional open studio days where the community can watch artists create and ask questions of the artists about how and why they create.
Sarah Nance will be ECA’s opening artist. Nance is currently an MFA candidate in Fiber at the University of Oregon. She says her work “focuses on the flux of moments or spaces that are coming into being or devolving into inexistent.”
On August 18, Nance will have her opening at the now-ECA WAVE Gallery.
Stubbert says,”The thing about her is that her work is very process-oriented. It’s very different from what the space has had before.”
ECA has a variety of other projects in the works as well. They are taking submissions for a fall residency right now. They will be showing a drawing performance during the Whiteaker Block Party on August 4th. They are talking to an artist collective right now about a late fall show. And for their education front, they are hoping to host a monthly artist critique night where locals can bring images, slides, and dialogue with other artists about current projects.
As far as the WAVE Gallery is concerned, ECA feels attached to the space and the name. Stubbert says,
“For now the name is going to stay the same. It’s important to the neighborhood and community at the moment.”
“While ECA will focus on visual art, the idea is to be a place where all contemporary art disciplines are welcome”. And most importantly, ECA wants to serve the local art community.
Stubbert says, ”This project is a little bit of what we’d like to see happen and a lot of what Eugene needs. Most galleries don’t exist because of what a city needs, but rather what an owner likes. We want to change that.”
ECA’s WAVE Gallery is located at 547 Blair Blvd, Eugene, Oregon 97402. For more information about Eugene Contemporary Art, visit http://www.eugenecontemporaryart.com/. The WAVE Gallery’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/TheWAVEGallery. For more information about Wes Hurd, visit http://weshurd.com/. Courtney Stubbert’s website is http://cargocollective.com/courtneystubbert. For more information about Sarah Nance, ECA’s upcoming artist, go to http://sarahnance.com/.