Article by Kelly Johnson, Executive Director of the Arts & Business Alliance of Eugene (ABAE)
Art ignites change. That was the message at the heart of the City of Eugene Cultural Services’ We Rise project. We Rise, a program that the City started in 2019, leverages art, performance, and creative expression to bring young people of color together in Downtown Eugene around mental health and wellness. In an effort to keep the program going amidst the pandemic, the program shifted from events and focused on creating a new mural for our community.
The first step was to build a planning committee with BIPOC youth aged 18-34 to lead the work and vision. Project coordinator and 4J teacher Kevin Summerfield led the charge to find motivated high school and college students to form the planning committee. The committee determined the goals for the mural, selected the muralist, and met with the artist to talk through the varied experience of being young and black in Eugene. One of the goals of the mural was to blend looking into a hopeful and joyful future with the support from enlightened elders.
It was important to the City that this work be driven by the people it was intended to represent. Kevin Summerfield reflects, “We created a space for the youth to build something that reflects themselves.” Summerfield believes that another benefit of the project was showing young people new career paths in the arts and getting them involved in civic engagement. “If we get BIPOC youth more involved in leadership and civic engagement, they will have more ownership and pride in our community and want to stay.”
The muralist selected was Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith, a Bay Area muralist who grew up in Eugene. Adopted and of Nigerian, Jewish, and European heritage, her work comes through a multicultural lens that explores the complex experience of human life. She is the founder of Wolfe Pack Arts, where she paints large-scale murals inspired by Afro-futurism, liberation, and abstract surrealism. Wolfe- Goldsmith drew from her own experience of growing up in Eugene and blending the experiences of the committee members. This piece is bright, colorful, and vibrant. It has two prominent figures; one is a krump dancer. Krumping is a street-dance style popularized in the United States, described as Afro-diasporic dance, characterized by free, expressive, exaggerated, and highly energetic movement.
The mural also has a moon in the corner that ties the youthful figures to the ancestors who have brought them strength. The mural is installed on the Lane Community College’s Downtown Campus.
When the Cultural Services team approached LCC about providing a wall for the mural, they jumped at the opportunity. In fact, they were already working with Wolfe-Goldsmith, an LCC alumni, on creating a mural on the main campus. Lee Imonen, the chair of LCC’s Art on Campus Committee, describes, “As an educational institution, our goal is to help people grow, we want to help start and foster the conversations our community needs to have, and this project matches perfectly with that mission.” It is an added bonus that the work is created by an alumni, helping to show current Lane students that there is a pathway to success and opportunities for them. Her murals have also created new learning opportunities. As she was painting her pieces, instructors like Imonen would take their students by to explain the process of starting with a small idea a growing it to a large-scale mural.
Carlos “Retro” Rasmussen was one of the planning committee members and said the experience opened new doors to him. “I am so grateful that the City included the other committee members and me in this process. Working on this mural has made me want to get more involved in the community. I want to be a person who leads more work like this.” The mural being in the center of town, at a hub and intersection of people’s lives, near the bus station, and the library, help make this already impressive work shine even brighter. “I can’t wait to take my two younger siblings and stand in the heart of our community, and have them look up at this piece and tell the story behind it, and how it came to be, and have them pull their own meaning out of it,” Carlos said.
This thoughtful partnership will have reverberations in our community for years to come. It brings hope and joy, and as Carlos said, “It gives BIPOC youth a voice in our community ’cause doesn’t everyone deserve one.”
Location: The mural is installed on the Lane Community College’s Downtown Campus.