No more Mayor's Art Show?

No more Mayor’s Art Show? Opening night last August.

So now what?

That’s the bitter question that’s floated around the Eugene arts world since the word came down last month that the best non-profit art gallery in town, and the closest thing the city has to a municipal visual art space, would soon be shuttered for lack of money — probably killing off the Mayor’s Art Show in the process.

The exhausted board of the Jacobs Gallery, which has been run for many years as an independent non-profit inside the city-owned Hult Center for the Performing Arts, announced they would be calling it quits January 31. In an email sent out to gallery supporters on November 5, the board and staff cited diminishing support for visual art.

“Sadly there has been a sea change in the ways in which art, purely for art’s sake, is valued.” the email said.

That missing support can be directly measured in dollars and cents from the city of Eugene. The city used to provide a $30,000 annual subsidy to the Jacobs, in addition to free rent. That money has disappeared.

The Jacobs has been the closest thing Eugene has to a municipal art gallery – an institution we sorely lack.

Under the guidance, most recently, of artistic director Beverly Soasey, the Jacobs has mounted a steady series of polished shows by interesting local artists. (Yes, I am among the artists who have shown there: I had an exhibit of my photography there this past spring. But I said kind things in print about the Jacobs long before my show there was even an idea.)

The city, meanwhile, is acting like this is some external disaster, completely out of the city’s control, that just happened to befall the Jacobs. Not our fault, they say.

“We are saddened by the news that the Jacobs Gallery will be closing its doors on January 31,” says a Facebook post from the city’s Cultural Services Division, which oversees the Hult Center. “The Gallery has long been a significant organization showcasing visual arts in our community. While Eugene is losing an important gallery, we are not losing our commitment to investing in the evolution and promotion of visual arts. Cultural Services looks forward to facilitating a community-wide conversation with artists and organizations that may be interested in utilizing this dynamic space.”

It’s a little hard to buy this line about commitment to the visual arts from the people who cut $30,000 from the Jacobs budget.

One question that pops to mind is this: What happens now to the annual Mayor’s Art Show?

That’s an institution that’s even older than the Jacobs, but that has been housed there for as long as the gallery has existed.

In its heyday, the Mayor’s Art Show – a juried exhibit open to all artists, 18 and over, in the county – exemplified the best of Eugene. Anyone could enter, and did. The show’s packed opening reception was on opening night of the (also now-defunct) Eugene Celebration. And, to add to the fun, the Salon des Refuses opened on the same night and showed all the works rejected by the official show. With more artists exhibiting there, the Salon reception was an even bigger party.

Then reality set in. The Salon worked because jurying for the Mayor’s Show was done with the actual art works brought in and arranged on tables . On judgment day, the rejected artists would pick up their works and then be encouraged to walk them over to the Salon. Reality meant saving money by jurying from digital images instead of in person. Without easy access to the works, the Salon was canceled. Soon after, the Eugene Celebration went under, and the Mayor’s Show became an isolated event.

So how to save the Jacobs and the Mayor’s Art Show? I’m on the board of director of the Lane Arts Council, which seems like the appropriate organization to take on running the Jacobs and the show. But as I’ve talked about the idea with fellow board members, with board members of the Jacobs, and even with the mayor herself, I’ve begun to doubt that Lane Arts could do anything to save the gallery that its board hasn’t already tried.

The problem is that city subsidy. With it, the gallery worked; without it, the gallery is gone.

Meanwhile, the city wants your ideas on what to do with the space the gallery now occupies. Cultural Services will be holding a meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 13, in the Atrium Building lobby, 99 West 10th Avenue, “to learn more about the Jacobs Gallery space and share ideas for its transformation.”

Or you can just email them: