Art as an economic driver

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer August 31, 2011 07:16 pm

The Union County Art and Culture Center, in the old Carnegie Library building at 1006 Penn Avenue, looks forward to a busy autumn. PHIL BULLOCK / The Observer
The Union County Art and Culture Center, in the old Carnegie Library building at 1006 Penn Avenue, looks forward to a busy autumn. PHIL BULLOCK / The Observer

Center seeks to expand local art and cultural scene

When it comes to art, more is better.

That’s the way the Union County Art and Culture Center is thinking these days, as it launches events and steps up its efforts to bolster the local arts community.

The center, in the old Carnegie Library building at 1006 Penn Ave., looks forward to a busy autumn. Director Charles Koehler said he hopes the result will be an increased interest in art as an economic driver.

“We believe that the Grande Ronde Valley and La Grande specifically is ripe with potential to further expand the local art and cultural scene. The development of art and culture along with outdoor recreation, adventure and history tourism could lead to new economic opportunities for the region,” Koehler said.

In cooperation with ArtsEast, a regional arts council, the center is staging the first “Arts in Our Towns” trade show 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 24. The show is designed to give non-

profit arts organizations the chance to promote programs for the coming year.

It also may serve as a bridge to better cooperation and communication between groups, Koehler said.

“It seems like different organizations may be duplicating programs or services,” he said.

At the trade show, arts and culture groups will be able to give information about their programs, promote upcoming events, register people for classes and more.

The event is also a fundraiser for the Oregon Cultural Trust, which this year will provide $1.5 million in grants for humanities, heritage and arts organizations in the state.

“One local recipient is the Union County Cultural Coalition, which received $7,000 this past year for local projects,” said Deena Heath of ArtsEast.

The event sponsors plan a raffle to support the trust, and are looking for donations of of items.

“We are suggesting art objects, event or season tickets, tuition waivers, discounts on classes or donations from business supporters,” Heath said.

There’s no charge to participate in the trade show, though organizations will be required to provide their own tables, signs and promotional materials. Deadline for registration is Sept. 12.

For registration, to donate a raffle item or for more information, contact Heath, 541-962-3624, or Mika Morton, 541-962-3629.

Koehler said a second arts event this fall is the center’s Fifth Annual Grande Gala Art Exhibition, “Rendezvous is the Valley,” Sept. 17 to Nov. 12.

An open call for submissions has been sent out for the exhibition, which kicks off during the center’s annual Grand Gala opening reception Sept. 17.

“There are no thematic requirements or restrictions for this show and we encourage artists to submit any medium or style from the traditional to the abstract and beyond,” Koehler said.

Entry fee is $35 for up to two pieces and includes a complimentary ticket to the Grand Gala. Those wanting to enter should call the center, 541-624-2800.

Koehler said the trade show and Grande Gala are headliners in a full slate of arts activities around the community late this summer and early this fall.

Opening of “Honored Artists of Eastern Oregon” are scheduled Sept. 2 and Oct. 7 at ArtsEast on the Eastern Oregon University campus; Sept. 15 is the monthly Artwalk in

La Grande; and on Oct. 8 the center is sponsoring the sixth annual Grande Ronde Studio Tour featuring 10 studios and more than 15 artists.

Other events are an opening reception for the EOU Art Program Alumni Exhibition, Oct 11; and the Eastern Oregon Film Festival, Oct. 20-22.

“During September and October, the community art scene will be bustling with activity,” Koehler said.

Koehler, originally from Wisconsin, recently wrapped up art studies of his own at Eastern. In addition to his duties as center director, he has served on the boards of the center and ArtsEast.

Previously, he was an Americorps-Vista volunteer in Gallup, N.M. While there, he helped develop a tourism promotion program that accented the area’s outdoor recreation opportunities, and also the local arts scene.

He said the program was successful on several levels, mainly because of a high level of commitment on the part of volunteers. The same thing could happen here, he said.

“The way I see it, change is the only constant,” he said. “Our economies aren’t bustling, and I really believe we need some new economies. The fact that we have so much in the way of outdoor activities, and so much art in the area, says there’s an opportunity.”