By Haley Ellis
When COVID-19 broke out in 2020, the City of Eugene sought a way for the community to escape the dullness of lockdown. Thus, Windowfront Exhibitions was born and has since blossomed into so much more than a pandemic-induced display.
Pioneered by the City’s Cultural Services staff, these artistic displays live in empty storefronts throughout downtown Eugene. Artists have the chance to submit applications in the fall of each year, and new seasons bring fresh exhibits and artwork to admire. This program has been a great steppingstone for its participants to gain traction and get their names out into the community.
“There are a lot of barriers for new and emerging artists getting their work out there,” Public Art Project Coordinator Claire Schechtman said.
Along with the objective of lighting up vacant spaces downtown, the primary purpose of these displays is to act as placeholders until businesses can come in and lease the spaces.
“Part of the goal of these Windowfront Exhibitions is to bring awareness to these buildings and show people how they could be used,” Schechtman said.
The program has succeeded immensely at doing just that. After being occupied by this art for nearly three years, buildings that were once riddled with graffiti and trash have nearly all been leased to businesses. With newfound respect for these buildings, incoming renters are determined to upkeep their spaces. In turn, Cultural Services staff aims to ensure that as a community, we are giving our businesses and spaces the same courtesy as our artists.
The impact of multicultural art created by community members has nurtured a love for the arts in Eugene. One of the biggest benefits of this program is the ability for participants to illustrate their talent and identity however they desire.
“For Cultural Services,” Schechtman said, “I feel like one of our goals in the past couple of years has really been shifting away from us telling people’s stories, to providing space for artists to tell their own stories.”
As these spaces begin to serve new purposes, the future of Windowfront Exhibitions has become uncertain. Cultural Services staff would love to find a permanent space to continue showcasing the local art Eugene has to offer, whether that be through permanent locations with temporary exhibitions, pop-up displays or showcases at events.
The City already hosts numerous events where artists can show off their work, and Lane Arts Council First Friday Art Walk is one of the most popular. This art-filled stroll through downtown takes place the first Friday of each month and, like Windowfront Exhibitions, is the perfect place for artists and vendors to share their talents with the public.
No matter what lies ahead for Windowfront Exhibitions, it is clear a program such as this can be immensely successful in both showcasing new artists as well as bringing in business downtown. It cultivated spaces that helped Eugene remember its love for art during a time when the community needed it most.
Looking back on the program's achievements and unbothered by upcoming changes, Schechtman said: “It’s cool that Cultural Services can be adaptable enough to respond to things quickly and pivot to stay relevant.”