Eugene Art Talk

Bob Keefer on art and music around Eugene, Oregon

Category: Culture (page 3 of 5)

Photos of Civic Stadium — before the fire — by Eugene artist Ann Bumb Hamilton


Eugene artist Ann Bumb Hamilton sent me these photos in April of Civic Stadium, which she had toured as part of the effort to save the Depression-era structure. The historic stadium, as you probably know, burned down this afternoon in a catastrophic fire.

“The reason I was taking photos was to record what parts of the stadium could be repurposed and/or salvaged to be used in art,” she emailed. “I was part of a group of eight artists selected for this purpose.”

My own reaction is this: When the fire broke out this afternoon, I was in a meeting at Midtown Arts Center on Willamette Street and 16th Avenue, and saw many fire trucks race by. When the meeting broke up about 5:45, I walked out and found a friend in tears over the huge fire we could see down Willamette Street. Flames were reaching perhaps 100 feet into the sky, and a column of black smoke marked the skyline.

I walked south to 18th, where we encountered a police line, and stood as people watched, fascinated and in tears, at the end of a Eugene icon. There are so many dimensions: Old Eugene, WPA, old growth timber, baseball when it was fun. We used to go dutifully, but happily, to the Ems game there each July Fourth. Not any more.










Custom Cranium update: They’re moving to new digs in the Whit

Prawlocki and his Frankenstein skull in progress

Adam Prawlocki, partner in the business, and his Frankenstein skull last fall

Custom Cranium, the Eugene store that sells dead animal parts and art work made from animal parts, lost its case in Lane County Circuit Court and was evicted from its downtown Eugene location, I learned today.

The owner of the property had objected to the strong smell produced by some of those dead animals and said it violated terms of the lease. A judge agreed.

The good news is for Custom Cranium and its fans that they’ve found a new home at 154 Lawrence St., in the Whiteaker district, according to the store’s website.

“This place is AWESOME and we will be back to having our regular taxidermy classes, opening events, and other fantastic lectures, and presentations SOON!” the website says.

Moving vans were parked today in front of the old store on Willamette Street near 13th Avenue.

I was subpoenaed to testify in the eviction proceeding earlier in May as a result of the article I wrote in November.

The owners of the store didn’t reply to an email today asking for comment.





I was hauled into court this morning over an Art Talk story


For the first time in four decades and some as a reporter, I was subpoenaed into court this morning over a story.

Actually, that statement might not entirely be true. I may have been subpoenaed once or twice in the past, but in that past I worked for big newspapers with big legal departments that were very good at making subpoenas for their reporters disappear.

Now, though, I am a blogger. And that  big legal department is — me. So I showed up as ordered this morning to add my bit of wisdom to Bauer v Custom Cranium. It seems the landlord wants to evict the odd little business on Willamette Street that’s been selling parts of dead animals for the past few months.

My special bit of wisdom was to testify that, yes, it smelled bad there when I visited in November on account of the dead animal parts kept in a terrarium for stripping by beetles.

In truth I’ve long had mixed feelings about the routine practice of news people trying to duck subpoenas whenever possible.  We are, after all, citizens of a community, and should have the same responsibilities as everyone else.

I’m not talking here about revealing confidential sources. Obviously that’s out, and in Oregon, reporters are protected by a fairly robust shield law from testifying, at least in general. And I was able to get agreement that I wouldn’t share notes (I don’t have any) and wouldn’t talk about anything but what was in the story. The lawyers honored that agreement.

This case isn’t that high-falutin’. There are no secret sources here, no meetings in parking garages. Just a landlord trying to evict a tenant, claiming the tenant’s business operation literally smells.

The reality in court this morning was fascinating and boring in equal measure. An ordinary eviction case begins quickly to sound as complicated and endless as Dickens’ Jarndyce v Jarndyce, and I spent several hours sitting around listening to lawyers argue before a bright and funny judge before I was finally called on to give my five minutes of testimony.

Now I see clearly why news organizations avoid letting their people testify in court. It would be an incredible time suck.

But, hey, I feel so civic!

I don’t know yet who won the case, or even whether a decision came down. I bailed and returned to real life just as soon as my moment of legal glory was over.

A new editor and publisher at The Register-Guard: A raw deal for the arts?



The Register-Guard has just announced the startling news that long-time editor and publisher Tony Baker, a third-generation member of the family that has run the paper for 88 years, is stepping down.

Even more startling, and potentially ominous for the Eugene arts community, is that he’s being replaced by N. Christian Anderson III, most recently publisher of the Oregonian.

You remember the Oregonian – that once-big daily paper in Portland that used to have, oh, about 500 arts and music writers and critics and reporters until they all got shown the door. (Happily, most of them are writing, less happily and pretty much for free, at the non-profit Oregon Arts Watch.)



So what’s it mean for the arts here in Eugene that the RG has a new publisher? Well, this one has an established record as a right-wing Libertarian – he once was publisher of the notoriously right wing Orange County Register.

Here’s what Barry Johnson, one of those former Oregonian arts writers, said in a story three years ago about the Oregonian’s opposition under Anderson to an income tax increase to support arts education:

Now that the publisher of the newspaper, N. Christian Anderson III, has wrenched the paper’s opinion columns toward the Libertarian Right, I find those columns increasingly incomprehensible—you can’t take a philosophy built on the ideal of the 18th century yeoman farmer and plunk it down into a contemporary 21st century city and expect it to be very useful.

So, I wasn’t surprised by the dim argument against the proposal to restore arts education to the public schools via a small income tax increase that the editorial page mustered today.

Tony, despite my disagreements with much of his administration, has always been an arts supporter. The RG had two full-time people writing about art and music on staff at a time when most bigger papers had dumped all theirs. (It now has less than a single full-time position doing arts coverage, with everything else farmed out to freelancers.)

Anderson looks to be less committed to the arts. He’s certainly less committed to quality journalism. Here’s how Willamette Week describes his tenure as publisher at the Oregonian: “(Anderson) cut home delivery to four days a week, laid off nearly a quarter of the newsroom staff and imposed web quotas for reporters.”

Good luck to my former colleagues on Chad Drive, and I hope the paper’s arts coverage is able to survive the new regime.

(sub)Urban Projections: A pale shadow of a light show in the Hult Center lobby

Trails: The best of an uncertain lot kept kids and adults mesmerized

Trails: The best of an uncertain lot kept kids mesmerized  making digital angels Thursday at the Hult Center

I will say right off, I was warned. I might just be too old for this kind of thing. I would probably enjoy it better with the help of recreational drugs.

I went anyway, at least for a while, to (sub)Urban Projections, the free city-sponsored festival of light, music and dance that was held in the lobby of the Hult Center Thursday evening — and, in fact, is most likely still going on as I write this, as I left town early.

The idea was interesting enough. This would be, in the city’s gushy press release, an event that “spotlights multimedia and interdisciplinary performances that re-draw the boundaries around expression, creativity and art to encompass the complexities of our 21st century landscape.”

That’s OK. I’ve read enough overheated prose like this in my career not to take it too seriously.

And the whole thing was a run-up to Friday evening’s performance at the Hult by Quixotic, a Kansas City group that melds dance, music, circus acrobatics and digital projections.

So I got to the Hult this evening with pleasant expectations. Something new and different would take place in the familiar cultural space. And as I walked in, half an hour before show time, it felt exciting — like coming in through the stage door, instead of into the lobby.

The lobby was back-stage dark. Cables were stretched here and there, performers were getting ready to go on, some video was beginning to be seen on the interesting high surfaces that define the Hult lobby. So far so good.

Following the crowd’s energy, I found my way to a wall on the mezzanine, in the hallway across from the women’s  restroom, where half a dozen delighted kids were dancing in front of a projector that showed time-delayed echoes of their movement in bright, psychedelic color. The kids could make video angels, like snow angels, by waving their arms.

This exhibit — Trails, by Benjamin Geck, Clara Munro and Zachary Dekker — turned out, sadly, to be the best thing I encountered.

The couple dance performances I stuck around for were lost in the sheer size of the crowd;  you couldn’t really get around from one part of the lobby to another, you couldn’t see, you couldn’t hear, and at one point an usher suddenly yelled at me that “These stairs are closed!” (she wasn’t being mean — she had to yell to be heard) as I tried to get back to the main floor for a better look.

What was missing, for me and a couple other cranky old folks I talked to, was any overall scheme. I wanted something big and bright. What I got instead resembled a booking convention, with small acts competing against one another on small stages, most of which you couldn’t get to even if you tried.

There was no overall presence, nothing that tried to fill that big, beautiful and intriguing space.

An acquaintance who once worked for the Grateful Dead shook his head in dismay. “We knew how to do light shows,” he said.

I’m off to bed now, right after I take my Geritol.



What happens in Vegas doesn’t need to stay in Vegas. It should come right now to Eugene.

We should probably build our own Eiffel Tower here, too.

We should probably build our own Eiffel Tower in Eugene, too.

Well, we’re back in Las Vegas, for one of our annual or slightly more frequent forays in search of sunshine, neon lights, desert hiking, good food and the wackiest city culture to be found in the United States.

I’ve long been a fan of Sin City, even though gambling bores me to tears. They do things right here, and not just those of the X-rated variety.

So here are a few things that Eugene — and particularly Eugene’s arts world — could learn from our wicked sister city to the south:

1.) On the Las Vegas Strip, you can walk down the street between clubs and casinos carrying the cocktail of your choice. This is legal. I don’t know how they worked it out with the state liquor control people or anything about the multitudinous liability issues that any lawyer could tease out of this situation. But it works.

In Eugene, on the other hand, during the First Friday Art Walk, you dare not carry your wine out of the Jacobs Gallery and go across the street to visit White Lotus Gallery or the Schrager and Clarke Gallery. You’ll be breaking a law of some kind, you’ll incur the wrath of some stern civic deity, and if you run into a police officer, you’re certain to annoy him (and, yes, in Eugene, it’s almost always a him).

Speaking of police officers:

2.) In Las Vegas, the police are friendly. At least they seem to be generally friendly to tourists so long as the tourists are not actively robbing banks or pointing guns at one another. You see people carrying those open cocktails (see point number one, above) having civil, friendly discussions with the police who are policing the Strip. I’ve chatted with cops myself, though not with a drink in hand. The police make you feel like they are there to help you. What a concept.

The last time I tried talking to Eugene police officer on a Friday night downtown, I feared I would be arrested, if not worse. It was during the Art Walk, and I saw a cop astride a bicycle talking on a cell phone against a white brick wall, all lit magnificently by the late afternoon sun. It looked like a great photo. He didn’t seem especially busy or distracted. He might’ve been talking to his wife about dinner. I held up my camera to indicate I would like to take a photo. The cop snapped his phone off and yelled at me. I shrugged and walked off, not wanting to risk any further discussion. I hate to imagine what would have happened if I’d been carrying my wine from the Jacobs Gallery.

That was actually the last time I tried to talk to Eugene cop on duty, having had plenty of irritating previous encounters with them when I was working as a reporter. (On the other hand, Springfield cops seem to get the simple concept of civility.)

3.) In Las Vegas, the answer always seems to be “Yes.” Could we get a room on the other side of the hotel? Well, let’s just see. Could we get that order of fish with salad instead of potatoes? Of course! Would it be possible to keep the rental car an extra half-day? No problem.

The whole city seems to be crafted around the idea of relaxing and having fun.

In Eugene, as we all know, the default answer is “No.” (See the police officer encounter, above.)

This rather Calvinist attitude may have something to do with the climate here, which causes people to walk around with hunched shoulders against the rain, fog and cold — even during the entire week of summer. We’re so morose we’ve even given up on the Eugene Celebration.

I’m sure the easy-going Vegas cheerfulness has a lot to do with the vast amount of money that circulates through the city. Look up at any time night or day, and there’s a line of jet airplanes stretched out as far as the eye can see, all waiting to land at McCarran International Airport. Every one of them is full of money, coming to town to be spent.

But perhaps we could change things. We can’t start printing our own money, though I suppose that would be one approach. Bit Coins, anyone? But we could try to lighten up. Let’s start by sending all Eugene cops to Vegas for a week of vacation, er, training, and then put them back on duty only if they step off the plane on their return to Eugene with a smile.

Meanwhile, let’s all lighten up in the arts world, too. More enthusiasm, less stuffiness. More smiles, fewer committee meetings. More vision, less policy. And, certainly, more great concerts like this one.

Okay, time to stroll the Strip. Maybe I’ll buy an umbrella drink and then walk outside and chat with a cop.

Some early in the week art world news bits


  • The Jacobs Gallery in the Hult Center is closed until further notice — I trust that won’t take too long — because of a plumbing leak that dampened the carpet. Art — such as the beautiful prints currently on display from the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts — doesn’t take well to moisture. The prints have been moved out while repairs are made. Meanwhile, I’m itching to get back in and see the show in detail, which I’ve already visited casually twice and thoroughly enjoyed. It runs through March 14.
  • Jeff Eaton’s memorial service will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 28 at First Christian Church, 1166 Oak Street. Jeff, a cellist with Eugene Symphony and executive director for many years of Oregon Mozart Players, died of cancer on January 28. Expect good classical music. “We plan to send him off as musical royalty,” says Sharon Schuman of Chamber Music Amici.
  • A couple things I’m planning to attend this weekend: Radio Redux‘s production of Casablanca at the Hult Center; it runs Friday night and Sunday afternoon; and Five of a Kind at VLT. (I know — I’ll miss the Eugene Ballet‘s  Carmen.  Haven’t yet figured out how to be in two places at once.)


All in the family: Art meets journalism, and cards


Just a quick Friday note: A story in the Register-Guard describes the wonderfully zany dress, made of playing cards — and all hearts, at that — by University of Oregon psychology prof Marjorie Taylor, who is showing it for Valentine’s Day at the downtown boutique she and her daughter Amber own, Velvet Edge.

Josephine Woolington’s excellent story omits one interesting connection — that Taylor is married to UO economics prof and good-government advocate Bill Harbaugh, who daily afflicts the UO’s exceedingly comfortable administration on his award-winning blog UO Matters.

The photo above shows the dress, made from thousands of used Vegas playing cards, at Taylor and Harbaugh’s home last month.

What a power couple Taylor and Harbaugh make: Art and journalism. My two favorite things you can do in public.

A couple more thoughts on those missing UO documents


Late Friday afternoon, just before I headed off to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art to see the new “Under Pressure” show of prints from Jordan’s collection, I couldn’t stand it anymore. How could the UO be demanding the return of 22,000 pages of documents that were almost certainly in electronic form? How do you “return” an email?

I re-read all the stories in the Register-Guard and the Oregonian. They didn’t answer my question.

So I emailed Tobin Klinger, senior director of public affairs communications at the UO and the only UO employee apparently allowed to talk about the story, and asked:

Are we talking about physical, as in paper documents, or electronic documents?

To my surprise, his answer came back quickly on a Friday afternoon.  “We’re talking about electronic records,” he wrote.

I asked a few more questions.

How on earth does someone “return” electronic records?

“By returning the device they were supplied on,” he wrote back.

So there is a physical device involved. A hard drive?

“It appears so,” he wrote. “But our review is ongoing.”

They’re not sure what physical form the records are in? This story continues to strain my mind.

I asked Klinger another question, too.

Has the UO ever been sued for a violation of anyone’s privacy under FERPA?

“As to the lawsuit question, that would take some research and I’m not likely to have a definitive answer today” Klinger wrote back.

In other words, it’s not like the UO has suffered greatly from privacy lawsuits. One day I’ll inquire how much money the university has spent not answering public records requests.

At the Schnitzer reception, meanwhile, all anyone wanted to talk about was my story on the documents — all off the record, of course. People speculated on who the two librarians are who have been put on administrative leave for giving out information to a faculty member, as well as about the identity of the offending professor.

Almost everyone believes the faculty member in question is, without a doubt, economics professor Bill Harbaugh, though he himself hasn’t confirmed or denied anything. The consensus among the wine and cheese crowd last night was that the UO has at last found a way to get him back for his aggressive criticism of the UO through his blog, UO Matters.

Just to help Harbaugh out, I emailed him this official “Get Out of Jail, Free” card. If it turns out he doesn’t need it, I’ll demand its immediate return.












The UO papers: Leaked? Or properly released to the public that owns them?


The news yesterday that two employees at the University of Oregon illegally “leaked” 22,000 pages of documents to a UO professor is stunning.

Not for the reasons the UO would have you believe. What is amazing about the whole affair is how the UO has managed to spin the story, making it seem as if legitimate confidentiality were being breached by hackers and moles within the ranks.

This is not a case of Edward Snowden and the NSA. The UO wants you to believe that, though.

Take, for example, the email sent out Tuesday by interim UO president Scott Coltrane. In its first paragraph, he claims that the records were “unlawfully” released, and goes on to say, “These records contain confidential information about faculty, staff and students, but our current understanding is that no social security numbers, financial information or medical records were shared.”

That’s kind of like saying that, “Our current understanding is that the two scurrilous leakers are not known to be drug addicts, wife beaters or members of ISIS or the Russian mafia.”

Bringing up social security numbers and financial and medical information strongly implies that this is the work of anarchistic hackers like Anonymous.

But look carefully at the few facts the UO has laid out. It appears from various news reports that a UO professor, who has not yet been named, may have made an official request for documents – as all citizens are entitled to do under state public records law.

Two UO employees then fulfilled that request.

What’s wrong with that?

Well, the employees apparently neglected to follow current UO policy, which is to ignore or violate public records law at every turn. In fact, the only thing I see that’s “unlawful” is the UO’s complete disdain for the rights of the Oregon public.

A story updated today in the Oregonian makes the situation seem more complicated. The prime suspect for the UO prof is economics faculty member William Harbaugh, a strident critic of the administration through his wonderfully aggressive blog, UOMatters. He emailed the Oregonian that the situation doesn’t result from a public records request, but involves information that came from the UO archives. Still, that doesn’t really change the situation. Under Oregon law, all documents are presumed to be public, unless they are specifically exempted. A strong case could be made that the two UO employees who released the information did so properly, because the information already belongs to the public.

The UO has a terrible record on transparency.

When I worked at the Register-Guard, for example, a simple public records request to the Oregon Bach Festival (see – there really is an arts connection to this story!) for emails about the hiring of a new artistic director resulted in an $800 bill to the newspaper. For what? For searching some emails?

(After weeks of negotiation, we paid up, and the emails were released – with almost everything blacked out.)

I have never in my 40-year career as a journalist seen such tight secrecy in a public agency that wasn’t actually engaged in something criminal. Is the UO hiding something? Who knows? How are we ever to find out?

And, yes, this is an important arts story. The university, with its Oregon Bach Festival and Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and its art department, constitutes the biggest arts institution in town.

It’s hilarious that the UO is demanding the “return” of electronic records that its employees released. What is the unnamed prof supposed to do: Send back a bucket of electrons?

Whether the unnamed prof is Harbaugh or not, the university has apparently given him — and, yes, according to an email reported in the Oregonian it’s a “him” — a deadline of today for “returning” the documents.

Yes, taxpayers haven’t supported the UO with as much money as they should. But the UO isn’t a private school just yet.

We the taxpayers still own the university, its buildings and its name. And we should be allowed to know what’s going on with our investment.

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