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da Vinci Days & College Town Festivals

July 16th, 2009 by dk

College towns offer big-city amenities, but without the attending headaches and dangers. Eugene is doubly fortunate — we have a spare college town to the north, and we have a spare college on our southern border. Our fertile emerald valley grows many things, including minds. We’re lush with learning.

If you’ve forgotten about Corvallis, this weekend invites you to become reacquainted. daVinci Days provides three days of zany fun, with races and concerts and roving performers, but also lectures and art projects and learning opportunities.

Eugene Celebration, take note.

Corvallis uses daVinci Days to shape and sharpen its image. Executive Director Brenda VanDevelder explains, “Mayor [Charlie] Tomlinson is very much of the mind that daVinci Days represents who we are as a community.” She continues, sounding practiced. “Who we are is welcoming, open to new ideas; expressive with our own creativity, but appreciative of creativity in others.”

“I’m proud that we have this unique event.” (There’s no stopping her now.) “It’s educational. Oregon State University’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. They scheduled their reunion to coincide with daVinci Days. They’ll be back in Corvallis for a fun weekend, but they’re also opening their labs, so people can learn what they do in there. I’d love it if a different college at our university did this each year.”

Can we get the University of Oregon similarly involved in our three days of downtown celebrating? I called Matt Purvis, a board member for DEMI, the local organization that stages the Eugene Celebration. “That’s tough,” he told me. “The calendar doesn’t quite work. They’d like it later in September, so students can be involved. We want it earlier to avoid the autumn rains.”

In fact, the Eugene Celebration will is moving a week earlier this year. It will be staged during Labor Day weekend. Purvis sees an advantage for programming. “Sunday will be a bigger deal. We’re keeping it to Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but people will have Monday off from work, so Sunday will have a different attitude.”

I asked DEMI board president Stefano Viggiano about the university connection. “Purvis and Kit Kesey both spoke to an events planning class in the spring. We promoted our poster contest on campus and the work of a graduate student was chosen for this year. We’ve been reaching out.”

Students are a treasure trove, but they don’t fully represent the institution. We’re a college town, even in the summertime.

Two summers ago, I volunteered for two weeks in New Haven, Connecticut to learn better how Yale and its host city partner for their International Festival of Art & Ideas. Their festival’s direct Mary Lou Aleskie told me her secret. “There’s an invisible third partner. Yale is a big part of Connecticut’s brand, so the state tourism board has gotten involved. They don’t have to play a huge role. Just enough to avoid the push-me-pull-me you get when there are two sponsors. Nobody wants to feel like they’re doing 51 percent. That third partner prevents that.”

VanDevelder also has three founding sponsors behind her — the city, the county and the university — but she considers OSU her main partner. “University President Ed Ray has been extremely supportive. He has made the infrastructure of the university available to us.” Once that commitment gets communicated to the organization, every phone call gets returned more quickly.

The support Corvallis extends to daVinci Days goes beyond money. “Everybody’s doing more with less,” VanDevelder notes. “But that’s good. It shows that things really do work in our community. It’s less about corporate sponsorship and more about community involvement. The festival is part of our quality of life.” And then she returns to the learning. “My fervent hope is that we provide a festival for the people. There’s nothing elitist about education. We all can learn something new.”

Exactly. How can we infuse that love of learning into our Eugene Celebration? Lane Community College has bond measure and federal stimulus money to spend, and those investments could bring dramatic improvements to downtown. Let’s add the Eugene Celebration to those conversations, already underway.

If the U of O won’t step up, maybe LCC will. Better yet, why not both?


Don Kahle ( has been the announcer for the Graand Kinetic Challenge, a race of human-powered sculptures and part of daVinci Days, since 2001. Details about this weekend’s festival in Corvallis:

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