Art on Hold
The 20×21 Eugene Mural Project has met its goal of creating 20 murals in town by the time the World Athletics Championships (formally IAAF) comes to town in 2021. In fact, the project is now so far ahead of schedule the planners are enjoying a gap year.
That’s in part because the championships have been put off for at least a year on account of the pandemic.
The original goal of bringing 20 murals to town was actually reached more than a year ago, in June 2019, before the pandemic pushed the event into the indefinite future. 20×21 committee member Debbie Williamson-Smith says committee members are going to use the extra time to think about what else they want to do for when the championships actually take place.
Cultural Services Division Director Isaac Marquez initiated the outdoor art project in 2017 when he was the city’s public art manager. At first the idea was to create 10 murals by 2021. Then it got bumped up to 20. To complement the international track and field competition, mural artists were brought in from around the world. Their travel was paid for, they received a stipend, and 60 local businesses chipped in to provide food, comp rooms and donate bicycles and art supplies and, perhaps most important, wall space.
Officially they met the 20-mural mark last summer. The city now lists 22 murals as part of the official project at 20x21eug.com, but unofficially 45 murals and smaller outdoor paintings have been created to date. Williamson-Smith calls the extra paintings “bonus murals,” done by artists such as Blek Le Rat from France and Dan Witz from New York, both of whom dotted the downtown area with multiple stenciled black and white images (Le Rat) and trompe l’oeil style paintings (Witz). Not all still exist; two of the small Le Rat stenciled images have been painted over, Williamson-Smith says.
The artists involved worked on their murals at the same time at locations spread around town, so it’s a bit of a call to say which of the four muralists last summer hit the goal of completing the 20th painting. Williamson-Smith believes it was Belgium artist Adele Renault’s pigeon mural at Coffee Plant Roaster, 2836 W. 11th Avenue.
Eugene’s current Public Art Manager Kate Ali agrees with the project committee that there should be a culminating event or artwork that celebrates the accomplishment. The first mural, a bright, geometric painting with stylized figures, was completed in 2016 by Brazil’s Acidum Project at 62 W. Broadway. The committee and Ali are thinking the final painting might be a joint work between artists, a collaboration that brings sensibilities from different cultures together in one picture.
Planning right now feels impossible, Ali says. It’s hard to know what an event looks like three months from now, much less in two years. But she thinks this gap year, and the extra gap year brought on by the pandemic, will be beneficial for committee members who are volunteering and need time to regroup.
Williamson-Smith volunteers as communication coordinator for the project. She also works at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art as communications manager. She’s been on the mural project since its inception. “I love public art,” she says. It’s a way for people to “encounter art with few barriers.”
Jessica Watson, the art walk coordinator for Lane Arts Council, started out as a 20×21 volunteer as well, but after a year was hired to coordinate that project. Does she think the name of the project should be changed to 20×22 so it reflects the new projected date? No. Neither does Ali. They’ve gotten this far as the 20×21 Eugene Mural Project, and changing it now would be complicated, especially since any future dates right now may be tentative. They’re going to stick with the brand. ν
See mural locations, artist bios, related events and ways to get involved at 20x21eug.com/murals.