'Theater corridor' artist selected

A 142-foot pedestrian walkway connecting Main Street to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus and the Hargadine Parking Structure is due for a major makeover. The walkway between Starbucks and Earthly Goods will be re-envisioned by Gordon Huether, an internationally known public artist named last week by the Ashland Public Art Commission (PAC). The goal of the work is to "enhance the barren pedestrian corridor and transform it into a lighted artful walking experience," according to the city of Ashland website.

Huether has spent his entire career in the field of public art designing site-specific art installations around the world, the city said in a release. His work has been characterized as “colorful, textural, playful ... and endlessly engaging.” Much of Huether’s work is fabricated at his studio in Napa, California by a team of craftsmen recognized for “their innovative, creative and highly professional artistry.”

“A goal of public art is to enhance an individual’s experience of a space and its surrounding environment," said Sandy Friend, chair of the PAC. "Gordon believes that public art can shape a space in a very positive way, bestowing a new level of engagement to an otherwise everyday experience. ... His references commented that he is good at community engagement, very collaborative, and works well with stakeholders. We are very pleased he has accepted the Theater Corridor commission.”

After the Ashland Downtown Beautification Committee, among a number of recommendations made in 2014, identified the walkway as a space that needed improvement, the City Council asked the PAC to oversee the project. In June, PAC invited artists throughout the West to submit their qualifications for consideration. PAC held five public meetings to review the 28 responses received from artists and teams of artists, including local artists. PAC conducted phone interviews with finalists and Huether was selected.

The concrete walkway between East Main Street and the city parking garage goes past the former home of the Adelante! art gallery to the Thomas Theatre. It's about 15 feet wide by 142 feet long (a little more than 2,000 square feet), and has two staircases. The artwork will be solely on the walkway, not affixed to or on the adjacent privately owned building walls, and cannot obstruct access to the walls.

Funds for the project, which is budgeted at $130,000, comes from the city transient occupancy tax, sometimes called a "bed tax." The city charges a 9 percent tax on lodging charges. The bulk of the funds, about 73 percent, goes for non-tourism uses through the city's general fund. The balance of about 27 percent goes back to promoting tourism, to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and city economic, cultural and sustainability grants. Three percent of bed tax revenues is set aside to fund public art. Huether will be paid $3,000 to develop two concepts and $110,000 to make and install the selected concept.

Huether will visit Ashland in February to meet with the PAC and the community and to view the site. Over the next several months he will develop two concepts for the site and present them to the community in September. A selection panel independent from PAC will choose the concept they feel best meets the project objectives and provide their recommendation to PAC and the City Council for final approval.

To help inform the artist as he works on developing concepts, PAC is inviting the community to answer an online questionnaire asking, "What should the artist know about the Theater Corridor?" It's online at www.ashland.or.us/theatercorridor (click on the "Click here to complete the questionnaire" link).   

Installation is expected in the spring of 2018.

(Dec. 20: Article updated to correct the spelling of Earthly Goods and to correct the allocation of bed tax revenue.)

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