Collette Ramirez, standing, and Tomi Anderson, seated at right, lead a small group discussion Wednesday evening.

Colette Ramirez, standing, and Tomi Anderson, seated at right, lead a small group discussion Wednesday evening.

Let’s put the best possible spin on this: Eugene cultural services staffers are clueless, not evil.

Well more than a hundred people showed up tonight to a meeting called by the city at the Hult Center, hoping to find out what happened to the Jacobs Gallery, which is the closest thing we have here to a municipal art gallery, and what they might do to save it.

Instead they were met by disorganized and defensive staffers who insisted that what they wanted was a “conversation” on what should be done with the room the popular gallery has occupied for the past 18 years. They need a hundred people to tell them what to do with a room?

The Jacobs board announced in November it would shut the gallery down at the end of this month because of mounting financial problems. The city has supported the Jacobs, a private non-profit, in the past with a cash subsidy, but that has recently been cut to zero, or not quite to zero, or…. well, you couldn’t figure any of it out from anything presented this evening. Behind the scenes, though, there have been whispers of a lack of support from city staff for the gallery over the past two years– whispers I kept hearing tonight.

It was, to say the least, a bizarre meeting. Chairs were arranged in a giant circle in the Hult’s downstairs Studio, campfire style, when people arrived at 5:30 p.m. Once people sat down, Cultural Services Division Director Tomi Anderson spoke only from a far corner of the room, as if afraid to step into the limelight.

“There is a lot of misinformation about what happened to the Jacobs Gallery,” she began. That’s when things began to fall apart.

Unhappy arts patrons demanded some kind of clear explanation. None was forthcoming. Anderson and other city staffers tried to keep people from addressing the large meeting, though several did anyway, with and without microphones and usually without identifying themselves.

After a half hour of this chaos, staffers broke the crowd up into a series of small-group sessions with facilitators, each with a felt tip pen and big paper tablet. At that point, perhaps a third of the people who had attended walked out. “I won’t be treated like a child,” a Jacobs board member said on the way out the door. Even the mayor left, or so I’m told, though it’s not clear why.

It was all too bad. No one from either the Jacobs or the city shed much light on the gallery’s closing – a fiasco that reflects badly, no matter how you spin it, on Eugene’s commitment to the arts. And no one from the city offered anything resembling arts leadership.

Writing bullet points on a poster board just isn’t the same as vision.

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