New "Art Walk" flags greet participants in downtown Cottage Grove.

Art Walk, the last Friday of each month in Cottage Grove, has had its challenges imposed on it these past two years. Normally a summer activity, organizers decided to make Art Walk a year-round event. In anticipation the group spent precious resources on new flags to mark the businesses participating. By the time the colorful flags had arrived, covid had dictated all manner of restrictions, turning the historic district into a ghost town.

The very nature of Art Walk is inimical to its existence during a health crisis. A highly social event where crowds show up and pack into local establishments to view creations of guest artists, socialize with neighbors and strangers, enjoy snacks and schmooze it up.

When restrictions hit in March 2020, Art Walk went into hibernation along with much of our normal lives. Even as things started to open up, covid had one last cruel trick. It was hoped to have the first Art Walk in April, but the declaration of extreme risk levels squashed those hopes.

With May came easing restrictions and the first Art Walk since closure tore loose in one ecstatic exuberance that was a bit intimidating for some. “It was a phenomenon, people had been pent up for so long that they had all this excess energy and hadn’t been able to visit face to face. They wanted to celebrate,” reported one participant.

June’s Art Walk seemed calmer and more like the old feel, although it came under the threat of a record heat wave that was already discernible in the air. The high temps caused many businesses to shut down for Saturday & Sunday, particularly if they operated already hot kitchens, turning what had been a joyous mingling of folks on Friday back into a subdued downtown scene as people hunkered down trying to stay cool.

Seems Art Walk can barely catch a break! But what was reassuring was that artists at all levels of experience and mediums were there showing what they could do and people were glad to be able to explore and marvel at this creativity while seeing friends.  

In keeping with the “there’s more going on than you can keep up with” theme, crowds were also over at Bohemia Park to witness their children shine in South Lane Ballet Academy’s annual Recital. Already hit hard by covid, the dancing arts had to scramble to produce an outdoor performance complete with stage, dressing tents and other challenges. I caught a glimpse of the performers in their colorful costumes as they took the final curtain call for the excited audience which gave it up one more time for all they were able to witness. Covid can’t keep dedicated dancers and their teachers down. Where there is a will there is a way!

Exquisite wood inlay art that included one-of-a-kind guitars, textiles, painting, historic postcard reproductions, were just some of the art presented. Both local bookstores featured authors willing to talk about their books and visual arts. Robert Leo “Bob” Heilman set up at Kalapuya Books, as was only right, he being a tree planter in earlier days. He followed his brother up to Oregon after realizing L.A. was no place for him. Settling eventually in Myrtle Creek, Heilman captures the struggles of small Oregon towns as traditional jobs disappeared, leaving devastated communities and deserted storefronts. His award-winning “Overstory: Zero” is back in print, a fascinating collection of essays touching on life in small-town timber country as the world changes around them. His new book, “Children of Death,” traces his family’s migration and travails following the Napoleonic Wars as German settlers in Russia to eventually farming in North Dakota, which also promises to be a great read.

Art Walk is funded through the EBID “Downtown Cottage Grove” as an effort to support local businesses that inhabit the Historic District and along Main Street. Art Walk Coordinator Michele Lyn Rose, who juggles helping the event shine and managing her own business, “The Crafty Mercantile,” commented on the reopening of Art Walk. “We wanted to celebrate being allowed to have Art Walk again by going big. We worked with Music Money 501c3 to bring some big exciting acts. This Friday we have Fode Sylla, world-class West African drummer, performing at Opal Park and next month will be “Samba Ja.” Then we will be going back to buskers and wandering musicians,” Rose said.

Fode had many off their feet and shaking to his rhythms and energetic personality. Native to Guinea, he was unable to return for 10 months after visiting family there during the pandemic, but was happy to reconnect to his fans and students here as restrictions ease.

Hopefully next month’s installment of Art Walk will not be battling the thermometer and settle back into its down-home bonhomie.

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