Eugene Celebration Redux

Five hours of steady rain Monday morning answered any questions we may have had about moving our traditional fall festival into August, but this year’s Eugene Celebration deserves other bouquets and brickbats, from one reveler’s point of view.

• A full bouquet, freshly cut and fragrant, to Mayor Kitty Piercy for her insight and solace for the family and community of former Eugene Mayor Ruth Bascom. We all received word of Bascom’s death just as Celebration booths were sprouting Friday afternoon. Piercy deftly reminded us to celebrate what is unique about this place. And that Bascom envisioned, protected and embodied that uniqueness as fully and deeply as anyone. So our celebration of Eugene was also fittingly a celebration of its first female mayor, marking her full and satisfying 84 years.

• A pile of brickbats, heaped into an urgent and thoughtless pile, to the new virtual judging system implemented this year for The Mayor’s Art Show. Organizers insisted this new system is much more efficient, but since when do art and efficiency go together? I have no doubt that judging, which once took days, can now be handled in a matter of hours, but there can be no substitute for being with the art. Otherwise, why have a gallery at all? Won’t viewers want those same efficiencies? The judges can make their judgments based on the photos they receive, compile them into an on-line Picasa album, and save everyone the trouble of attending. Think of how much longer the carpet will last at Jacobs Gallery, once visitors are no longer necessary or welcome.

• Bouquets for building a partnership with Habitat for Humanity that will continue for at least two more years, especially because the organization has been so active and successful in recent years in Springfield, but unable lately to locate appropriate building lots in Eugene. And don’t forget the value of the partnership with Jerry’s Home Improvement, which is about as blue collar local as you can get. Now let’s get Les Schwab to join the party!

• Brickbats for Eugene Celebration parade organizers, for choosing a prominent politician as their Grand Marshall. Senator Jeff Merkley may have been an active volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in the Portland area and he may be a fine U.S. Senator. But this year’s goal was to send a message that Eugene Celebration welcomes all of Eugene to its signature celebration. Honoring a politician who didn’t receive a majority of votes north and west of the Willamette River blunts that message. Make no mistake. That was a politician’s wave he was giving the parade viewers.

• An appropriately stinky bouquet for Rep. Peter DeFazio, who knows his place in the parade, cleaning up after the giant serpentine slug, with his traditional shovel and wheel barrow. DeFazio and his staff understands that the Eugene Celebration can embrace anything except inauthenticity. His staff also provided Celebration parade judges with one of their favorite bribes — a six-pack of Rogue Ales.

• Bright bouquets meanwhile to the organizers of the Whiteaker Block Party, an early August version of what the Eugene Celebration once was, allowing each festival to grow in different directions.

• An empty vase for a bouquet that might have been for KLCC. They hosted a stage practically right outside their new downtown studio. They gave their remote broadcast truck a rest by running wires over buildings from the stage on Olive Street directly into their studio. So why didn’t they welcome their supporters inside for tours this year? An opportunity missed.

• A mixed bouquet with a few brickbats for the University of Oregon’s increased involvement. Much has changed about Eugene in the past decade. Our Ducks now will dominate any weekend they inhabit. But the need to celebrate Eugene, all of it, at least once a year, has not changed a whit. The University of Oregon must step up from a key supporter to full partner in a celebration of this place and all the people —young and old — who call it home.

Once upon a time, our college town calendar was bookended by Eugene Celebration in September and the Willamette Valley Folk Festival in May. Those days won’t be returning. May even brighter ones lie ahead, Monday morning’s downpour notwithstanding.
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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. He was a Eugene Celebration Steering Committee volunteer in the mid- and late 1990s.