A $20 bill doesn’t buy much right now. But in Bend next month, that $20 will get you a piece of original art.
Now in its 10th year, the 20-Dollar Art Show features thousands of small art works created by artists from around Central Oregon and beyond.
The show is organized by Bright Place Gallery co-founders and artists Stuart Breidenstein and Abby Dubief and started when Breidenstein had a jewelry shop in Bend’s Old Ironworks Arts District. He had been doing a $10 jewelry sale and it occurred to him that he could open the sale up to artists.
“Kind of last minute I invited a bunch of artists to do this $10 art show, and quickly realized when people started turning in art, I was like, ‘Oh, this is all way too good for $10,’” he said. “So the next year it was $20.”
This year’s 20-Dollar Art Show will be Oct. 20-22 at the High Desert Museum in Bend. Tickets for opening night cost $5 and go on sale at noon Monday, Sept. 18, via the museum’s website. Entrance to the show is free on Saturday and Sunday and does not include admission to other museum exhibits.
“Set an alarm,” Breidenstein said. “When tickets go on sale, they sell out very quickly.”
There are rules: Each piece must be 36 square inches or smaller, and it has to be two-dimensional art meant to be hung on a wall. So no jewelry, no functional pottery like mugs, no freestanding sculpture. And no photographs or prints that can be reproduced on a mass scale.
The show used to be held at Bright Place, first at its location in the Ironworks, then at its space on Bend’s east side.
The last couple of years at Bright Place Gallery, Breidenstein said, “it had gotten huge, where we had hundreds of people waiting in line outside to get in. We outgrew the space.”
In 2020 — during the show’s COVID hiatus — the High Desert Museum approached the pair and agreed to host it.
“Getting local artists collected and into people’s houses, and really making those connections and building a community around art, is what we’re all about,” said Dustin Cockerham, the museum’s senior curator of exhibitions and collections.
Bright Place organizes the show, and the museum on the south end of Bend provides wall space. Lots of wall space. The show takes over most of the museum’s indoor space, with temporary walls put up to help accommodate the large number of works.
Once the work starts going up, Cockerham said, “visitors are always so curious if they haven’t heard about it before, and staff are so excited. There are so many staff who participate in the show who are local artists. You couldn’t curate a show like that, to have that many pieces and that many artists. It’s kind of this thing that happens organically.
“This is one of those things that works, and you don’t have to force it to work.”
Because while the show has been popular with art buyers, it’s also popular with artists. This year, they have pledges for 4,200 pieces of art from 165 artists, Breidenstein said. While most artists submit around 20 pieces, others will turn in 100 or more. The final tally won’t be known until the show is being put up, because not every artist will complete all the pieces they pledged to submit. Still, there will be a lot of art for sale.
Opening night is, well, busy.
“I know Stuart describes it a lot of times as ‘art chaos.’ It’s like a good chaos,” Cockerham said. “There’s something really exciting about going through the show and trying to see all those pieces. The night, when things start coming off of the wall, that frenzy of ‘Oh, should I grab this one’ — and someone will reach in and grab it. It’s an art experience as well. Just to be able to see 4,000 pieces from a bunch of local artists all throughout the building, there’s a physical exploration of it that I think is really, really fun.”
The artists receive 100 percent of the sale price. They pay $20 to enter the show, which helps Bright Place offset expenses. The $5 ticket price for opening night, along with sales from the museum cafe, help offset the museum’s costs.
Typically, Breidenstein said, they’ll sell between 50 percent and 75 percent of the works. “Last year we hung 2,800 pieces and sold 2,100,” he said.
The majority of the participating artists are from Central Oregon. Those who mail their pieces for the show from states such as Idaho, Washington, Colorado, California, and Wisconsin typically have family in Bend, or found the show on Instagram. This year’s show has drawn an artist from Tasmania.
For the artists, the 20-Dollar Art Show offers a variety of opportunities. For young artists, it can be a valuable learning experience and confidence boost. For more experienced artists, it’s an opportunity to experiment in different mediums, chase artistic whims, and figure out how to create quality art inexpensively and efficiently.
“It’s like a little puzzle to figure out, how can I do something with very minimal materials and minimal costs and time investment, because it’s only $20,” Breidenstein said. “It’s great for the buyer. People can collect a whole bunch of $20 pieces, and buyers come back year after year.”
Bethany Garland-Wood typically creates her abstract expressionist works on large canvases and has fun going small.
“I submit to the 20-Dollar Art Show just various things, which is why I like doing the show, because I don’t have to necessarily stick to that constraint” of her usual style, she said. She noted there are rules to the show, “but there aren’t rules to your creativity. I don’t have to make what I would be known for, or what people have seen in shows, or follow a particular style. I can experiment just for the hell of it and just throw random bits of art out there. It’s what I really love about that show.”
At 18, Keala Anderson is a veteran of three 20-Dollar Art Shows. The first year he entered, as a middle school student, he didn’t sell a thing. The next year he sold all but one of his submitted works.
“It’s been a great experience for me,” he said. “That second year when I sold most of my pieces was an amazing moment. … It was awesome.”
Mostly, the show is about giving artists a place, Breidenstein said.
“It’s to give people a platform, people who don’t have a place to show. There’s great art out there that people don’t see because it’s so hard for artists to break into the community,” he said. “And a lot of people don’t necessarily want to do a show at a gallery with their name on it, with all the pressure and stress that comes with that, and rejection. This is … you follow the rules and you’re in and you can sell some art.”
New this year is an opportunity to see the show in its entirety before opening night. The show will open on Monday, Oct. 16, giving people five days to take it all in before the chaotic, high-energy opening night extravaganza on Oct. 20.
That preview, Breidenstein said, will give people a chance to “plan where they want to go, because opening night we just open the doors … and people come in and start pulling pieces off the wall. It’s kind of a madhouse then.”
Yes, customers physically take the paintings off the wall. That’s one of the other rules: Once you’ve taken a painting off the walls, you’re going to buy it. No putting things back.
Also new this year, art will be restocked for the second day. Because they anticipate having more art than they can hang for opening night, some pieces will be held back and put out for purchase on Saturday. There might be as many as 500 pieces to go out on Saturday morning, Breidenstein said.
“That will give another day,” he said, “if you don’t get a ticket for opening night, or if you don’t like big crowds, you can come back on Saturday and you’ll see some fresh stuff.”