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Bend Art Center Opens In Changing Central Oregon Arts Landscape

The Bend Art Center's July 2017 exhibition celebrates veteran Oregon artist Lee Kelly. The walls are hung with graceful, austere prints in black, white, and gold. And Kelly sent scaled-down demonstration models of some of his iconic larger works, including "Bend Gate", which welcomes visitors to the city on US-97.

The Bend Art Center’s July 2017 exhibition celebrates veteran Oregon artist Lee Kelly. The walls are hung with graceful, austere prints in black, white, and gold. And Kelly sent scaled-down demonstration models of some of his iconic larger works, including “Bend Gate”, which welcomes visitors to the city on US-97.

April Baer/OPB

A new chapter is opening for a Central Oregon studio that’s taught thousands of people and shown a lot of great art over the years. Atelier 6000, aka A6, is a studio dedicated to printmaking and book arts. But it re-opened this month with a new name signifying a much broader mission: the Bend Art Center.

Board President Bruce Emerson says the name change was, in part, a practical matter. “We spent so much of our bandwidth explaining what an Atelier is and what an Atelier does, and that the public is welcome here,” he said.

The center has a dedicated fan base, but it hasn’t been easy to maintain such a specific discipline as printmaking in a town the size of Bend. A6 had several near-death experiences, culminating in the spring fundraising campaign that raised $27,000 to keep the doors open.

But Emerson said community has always been central to the center’s mission. The intention is to provide better perspectives into art making and leave the center some room to grow into what the community needs.

Pat Clark (left), founder of the Bend Art Center, Board Chair Bruce Emerson (center) and the organization's new executive director, Alexis Chapman (right).

Pat Clark (left), founder of the Bend Art Center, Board Chair Bruce Emerson (center) and the organization’s new executive director, Alexis Chapman (right).

April Baer/OPB

A6 founder Patricia Clark has mentored many prominent artists in Central Oregon, and moved mountains to keep A6 going, recasting it as a nonprofit and a community arts education center. She describes the studio’s 30-year evolution as a long walk. Sure, she says, at first the new name was a bit hard to accept. But change was happening.

“I thought, I just have to let go of this. This is true growth in the community. We have to embrace it and see if we can have people understand it in many other ways,” Clark said.

Staff at the Bend Art Center say you can expect a broader range of art exhibitions in the works, with some expansion of classes in disciplines like drawing and design.

But the name change is also a signpost for the restless conversation in Central Oregon art circles about who speaks for art, and what needs to be said.

Music, food, art, and strolling at Bend's Summerfest last weekend.

Music, food, art, and strolling at Bend’s Summerfest last weekend.

April Baer/OPB

On the surface, things look rosy. Galleries in Bend and Sisters are open for business. And during events like Bend’s Summerfest, Wall and Bond streets are packed wall-to-wall with people enjoying music, food and strolling among 150 artists and crafty folk from Bend and beyond.

Liza Schwarz moved to Bend this spring from Coos Bay. She spent Summerfest selling her handmade line of boldly-patterned yoga pants and festival-wear to new customers. And she says people are buying.

“I’ve been at Northwest Crossing market the last few weekends doing really well there,” Liza said. “Etsy is my primary selling place. This is all kind of an experiment but it’s going really well.”

But poke the surface and you find an arts scene with a laundry list of outstanding needs. Many artists and organizations are scampering to keep up with the soaring cost of living and working space. And art advocacy needs remain in a town where the community is changing fast.

Barton DeGraaf is a painter whose whimsical studies of animals grace the walls of Immersion Brewing, as well as his festival booth.

“I went to school in Denver, so that arts scene was pretty strong,” DeGraaf said. “Outside of the school they had the student art league. They taught classes, they taught you how to become an artist. And you’d learn from professionals that were out there actually making a living doing it. I find here in town that we don’t have that. I don’t know many artists that make a living doing what I’m doing. Like, how do you make a living doing this?”

Art outreach to underserved communities has also taken a big hit. When the long-running non-profit Arts Central folded last year, Bend’s Parks and Recreation District took over the operations’ education hub, Art Station. But classes and other services offered to hundreds of kids outside the city of Bend have fallen into limbo.

Some advocacy work has been shouldered by the Arts and Culture Alliance, a recently formed group whose mission is to promote the arts in Central Oregon.

“Momentum is great right now,” said board chair Kevin Barclay. “I think we’re getting a lot of support from different areas of Central Oregon. Financial support as well. The most recent one was from Regional Solutions to help us with the AAP study.”

Barclay’s talking about recent research from Americans for the Arts — a survey of arts and culture’s ripple effect in communities across the country.

The breakdown of regional numbers for Central Oregon finds arts supporting nearly a thousand jobs in the region, generating $2.4 million per year.

“What we’re trying to show people is it’s not just about enriching lives. It’s about enriching our community’s economy,” Barclay said.

Elsewhere, the question of where you can see art in Central Oregon is slowly taking new shapes. The High Desert Museum is bringing on its first-ever curator of art and community engagement.

And now, art audiences responding to the new possibilities posed by the Bend Art Center’s identity makeover. The Center’s board president, Bruce Emerson, and its executive director, Alexis Chapman, told us that the name change has yielded immediate results.

“In months past when people walk by they see the name, they don’t know what it means,” Emerson said. “They may peer in the window but they don’t come through the door. And the instant the words ‘Art Center’ showed up on our door, those same people are opening the door and coming in.”

“It was the first time we ever had someone come in and ask us where they should be looking for art,” Chapman added.

The Bend Art Center is hosting a public art talk on July 18, covering Lee Kelly’s Bend Gate, his Sound Garden in one of the city’s roundabouts, and more.

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