Let a Thousand Celebrations Bloom This August

I feel a teensy bit responsible.

Last September I suggested that the Eugene Celebration may have run its course. It had done a great job for decades filling empty retail spaces, attracting people to an otherwise desolate downtown, and raising optimism about the center of our city — however temporary and alcohol-fueled that optimism may have been.

Now that downtown is becoming a legitimate hub of civic activity, bringing hordes into the area for one weekend in August also drives away the regular customers who support those businesses.

So I suggested we kill it. But that’s only half of what I wrote. I also proposed that we allow new ideas to fill its void. When a mighty tree falls in the forest, sunshine suddenly streams to the soil and a thousand flowers can bloom in its place.

Kesey Enterprises felled that timber this week, though they insist they are suspending the festival for only one year. They have followed the playbook of Corvallis’s daVinci Days, except daVinci Days’ leaders gave their community almost ten months’ warning.

We’ve been given ten weeks. That’s not much time.

So be it. We can demonstrate the can-do spirit that Cynthia Wooten and others believed would make the first Eugene Celebration successful in 1983.

Kit Kesey should start the ball rolling and lend the festival’s name to the organizers of the Whiteaker Block Party. If Kesey and his staff are genuinely looking for a better model for 2015’s festival, the Whiteaker model deserves primary consideration. It features local musicians spread over ten stages and 13 hours, hundreds of volunteers, and no admission cost.

The street party in the city’s “fermentation district” has quietly grabbed the mantle of summer cool as Eugene Celebration has been shedding it.

How do we let itinerate street performers know they are welcome all over downtown? Buskers need no stage, sound system, publicity or planning — only an impromptu space to perform, an audience, and a hat for collecting tips.

We don’t really need the expensive infrastructure that has stapled the last decade of Celebrations together.

Eugene’s city staff should throw open its permit window and offer anyone with an August celebration idea the opportunity to try it this year with as little regulatory interference as possible. Give restaurants and downtown bars a weekend of sidewalk serving privileges for minimal or no expense. If we want a thousand flowers to bloom, staying out of their way is a good place to begin.

City staff can get in on the action by quickly assembling a team of volunteers for a downtown version of its Sunday Streets. They have plans for a street fair in July and another in September, but August now is sun-shiningly open. If a spontaneous parade emerged, no one would complain.

Other public agencies should follow suit. Eugene’s 4J School District could rent Civic Stadium to the group that wants to preserve it as a sport and entertainment venue for a weekend of concerts and fireworks.

EWEB has big plans for its riverfront acreage. All four teams vying for the opportunity to develop those 17 acres should be invited to give the public a temporary taste of what they envision.

Eugene’s abundant riverfront parkland should teem with activity all weekend. I’m picturing a huge tug-of-war across the Peter DeFazio footbridge between residents who live on each side of the river. (Come to think of it, the bridge itself would inappropriately lessen the stakes.)

Eugene Emeralds could play a pick-up baseball game for charity. The University of Oregon’s football team could have one, single open practice, followed by a pie-eating contest.

Downtown developer Brian Obie hopes to lure a movie theater to his 6th Avenue mixed-use complex, so let him erect an inflatable screen in one of the area’s parking lots and offer free movies for families.

Once you begin adding it altogether, filling the fourth weekend in August will not be much of a challenge. We could easily fill every August weekend to properly demonstrate how much celebrating there is to be done here.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. You can read his earlier column on the topic at http://www.dksez.com/kill-the-eugene-celebration/.