On the western edge of Springfield, across the train tracks and over a ditch, there's a group of nondescript warehouses. They look absolutely ordinary. But step inside No. 165 on a Saturday afternoon and you'll find yourself transported to one of the most consistently progressive contemporary art galleries to be found between Seattle and San Francisco.
Ditch Projects was founded in 2008 by a group of University of Oregon master of fine arts students. "The impetus was to create a bridge between Eugene and the greater art world in a national sense," says Donald Morgan, an assistant professor in the art department and one of the first faculty members to join Ditch. The gallery shows work by its members — there are currently 10— as well as artists from across the country.
None of the art at Ditch is for sale, which helps create a climate in which experimentation, artistic discourse and creative risk-taking is encouraged. Funding to support the gallery comes entirely from members' dues.
"Everyone who is part of Ditch is doing it totally as a labor of love," says Morgan.
And although the gallery is not officially affiliated with the UO, it is, as Morgan puts it, "intimately associated with them." All of the members are either students, faculty, instructors or alumni. "By putting on shows that wouldn't otherwise be happening in Eugene, we are able to contribute to the climate of the art department," he says.
Those familiar with the New York art scene will note the playful reference to Deitch Projects, a well-known contemporary art gallery in SoHo. Founding member Mike Bray, an instructor in the art department and cinema studies program, acknowledges the reference, but notes that the name actually came from the ditch that runs alongside the warehouse. The gallery originally occupied a space built on stilts over the ditch.
"We couldn't register the name 'Ditch,'" Bray says, "so we registered 'Ditch Projects.' We also registered 'Deitch Project' (interestingly, the New York gallery had neglected to) and pointed it to our website." When the Deitch Projects people found out, "they thought it was funny," he says, "they were cool about it."
This Saturday, April 9, Ditch will host an opening reception for a show featuring works by member artists and master of fine arts candidates Lee Asahina and Mary Morgan, and a project by Indiana-based guest artist Keith Allyn Spencer. The opening runs from 6- p.m., and the campus community and public are invited.
"We'd like more people to know we're here, especially people from outside the art department," Bray says. "We're trying to bring a conversation to the area and to bring in artists from LA, Chicago, New York, to broaden the conversation." He notes that Ditch is actually better known in Los Angeles than it is in its hometown, likely due to strong traffic to its website and reviews in major art magazines such as frieze and Artforum.
Ditch members meet once a month or so, and all contribute to every aspect of running the space, from mopping floors and tending bar to nominating guest artists and installing shows.
"The grad students learn so much about installing work, making decisions, everything it takes to do a show," Bray says. "You can make great work, but you have to learn to install it through helping other people."
In addition to those already mentioned, current Ditch members include master of fine arts candidates Chelsea Couch and Sarah Mikenis, art department instructor Isami Ching, assistant professor Rick Silva and recent MFA graduate Jessie Rose Vala.
For those who decide to come to the opening Saturday, check the website for directions — you'll know you're getting close when you cross the ditch.
—By Ann Wiens, University Communications
303 S. 5th Avenue #165
Gallery hours: Saturdays 12:00 – 4:00
Opening reception: Saturday, April 9, 6:00 – 9:00
Featuring: Lee Asahina, Mary Morgan, and Keith Allyn Spencer, April 9 - 30