Echo Mountain fire

From ashes of the Echo Mountain fire, art

The Lincoln City Cultural Center gathers photography and items culled from the rubble of last fall's wildfire near Otis

Photographer Bruce MacGregor waited out wildfire evacuation warnings near his home in Clackamas County for weeks last fall before it felt safe to head to Otis. There, in the tiny town on Oregon 18, he met survivors of the devastating Labor Day wildfire. He didn’t expect anyone to agree to his request for photos, but their responses were a surprise.

Those photos are part of the new Up from the Ashes exhibit in the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s PJ Chessman Gallery. An opening reception, with a live video tour, is planned for 4 p.m. Friday, April 9. The exhibit will run through May 9.

“It’s a pretty special show,” said Krista Eddy, gallery director. “We are trying to share people’s stories and also show that there is this amazing spark of hope and resilience in people. They’ve struggled and there are good things at the end.”

Bruce MacGregor photographed Larry on Sept. 20, after his Otis home was destroyed in the Echo Mountain fire, then looted. Photo by: Bruce MacGregor
Bruce MacGregor photographed Larry, above, on Sept. 20, after his Otis home was destroyed in the Echo Mountain fire, then looted. Below, on March 16, MacGregor met up with Larry (left) at the same site, where he was waiting for a cement truck to lay a sidewalk to go with his new mobile home. Photos by: Bruce MacGregor
On March 16, Bruce MacGregor met up with Larry in Otis. Larry (left) was waiting for a cement truck and crew to lay a sidewalk to go with his new mobile home. Photo by: Bruce MacGregor

The exhibit includes objects pulled from the rubble following the Echo Mountain Complex Fire, which burned 2,500 acres and destroyed about half of the town’s 1,200 buildings, as well as artwork created by community members, and MacGregor’s photos, which were made before he knew of the planned exhibit, and found a home in it after.

“I had become interested in the project and had put out to relatives and friends that if they knew anyone, I would be happy to do some photography, if it would be useful,” MacGregor said. “I got back one request for a GoFundMe site. He was trying to raise money and wanted photography of himself and his wife. That was the first and most poignant.”

In Otis, a town of about 3,500 a few miles in from the coast, MacGregor met Saki and Guy (Eddy has requested last names not be used, out of respect for fire victims’ privacy), the couple who started the GoFundMe site, and their neighbors, including Larry.

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Fertile, Grounded, Virtual & Here

ArtsWatch Weekly: Portland's festival of new performance goes online; finding the humans in the frame; fresh flicks; new theater & more

RIGHT ABOUT NOW EVERY YEAR FOR THE PAST ELEVEN YEARS before 2021 the hustle and bustle’s hit performance spaces large and small in Portland and environs – an energetic outpouring of new work at just about every stage of development, from first reading to workshop to staged reading to full-blown premiere production. In an ordinary year the Fertile Ground festival of new works presents more than 100 pieces of theater, dance, film, and other performance, by Oregon artists, from first-timers and unknowns to projects from the biggest performance companies in town. It’s been a creative free-for-all, predictable in its unpredictability, a sprawling mega-event in which you never know what you’re going to see next, and that’s a very big part of the fun.
 

Scene from Myhraliza Aaza’s “Oh Myh Dating Hell,” debuting at 9 p.m. opening night – Thursday, Jan. 28 – in this year’s online Fertile Ground festival of new works.

This year, of course, is far from ordinary – and so, Fertile Ground 2021 is far from ordinary, too. You might say it’s breaking new ground, which might be as fertile as the old, but in very different ways. Fertile Ground opens today – Thursday, Feb. 28 – and continues through Feb. 7 entirely online, with a lineup that’s both curated and vastly reduced: thirty-six projects, all created to be streamed online, making their debuts over the run of the festival and available to view on the festival’s Facebook and YouTube channels through Feb. 15. Streaming the shows is free, although the festival is happy to accept donations.

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Grants help coastal artists rebuild after Echo Mountain fire

Ashley Andersen and Nancy Jean Chase are among 11 artists who will benefit from nearly $14,000 awarded by the Lincoln City Cultural Center

As Ashley Andersen watched her greenhouse take flight, picked up by the windstorm raging outside her Otis home, she wondered if she should pack a go-bag before tucking into bed for the night.

“Growing up military, they teach you to do that,” said Andersen, an illustrator who had lived in Otis as a child and been back less than two years. “Anytime you think you should have a go-bag, you should just do it.”

Ashley Andersen and her boyfriend, Jason Taylor (holding their dog, Shenzie) lost their house, cars, boat, and cat in the Echo Mountain Complex Fire. She is holding a commissioned gouache portrait created after the September fire.
Ashley Andersen and her boyfriend, Jason Taylor (holding their dog, Shenzie), lost their house, cars, boat, and cat in the Echo Mountain Complex Fire. She holds a commissioned gouache portrait created after the September fire.

Andersen and her boyfriend, Jason Taylor, were among the hundreds who escaped into the night as the Labor Day windstorm howled and — unbeknownst to them — flames licked at the surrounding forest.

In the end, the Echo Mountain Complex Fire would ravage more than 2,500 acres, destroying nearly 300 homes, hundreds of buildings, and leaving the little town of Otis, roughly four miles east of Lincoln City, a charred no-man’s land.

Minor by comparison, but nonetheless painful, was the cancellation — again — of the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s annual gala, already revamped once to accommodate rules for COVID-19. But that disappointment yielded some good news, as would-be gala attendees donated the price of their prepurchased tickets, inspiring what was to become the Echo Mountain Arts Fund. That sum in turn was bolstered by a donation from the Oneatta Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation.

Earlier this month, the cultural center awarded nearly $14,000 in the first round of grants from the fund to 11 Otis-area artists, including Andersen. Fundraising is continuing with an online auction. Items up for bid include a glass phoenix made from Echo Mountain fire ash by Kelly Howard at Lincoln City Glass Studio, and a quilt by Otis artist Pat Lay will be raffled. The online auction ends at 6 p.m. Feb. 13.

As she sat wondering about that go-bag, Andersen suspected she had waited too long when she heard a crack and crash as a tree fell onto the roof just over Taylor’s head. It was time to go.

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Smoke on the water

Photographer Benjie King captures haunting images of Newport’s bayfront and Yaquina Bay Bridge in the orange glow cast by wildfires

The morning after a historic windstorm swept over the central Oregon coast, igniting the Echo Mountain fire in Lincoln County and stoking the flames of other fires already burning, Benjie King was out looking for oxygen for his dad. As he usually does, King, 45, took his camera with him and soon found himself shooting photos of scenes around Newport he knew he was unlikely to experience again.

“I was actually working the night I realized things were going down,” King recalled. “You could look straight at the sun that evening and I knew it was going to be a gorgeous sunset, but I didn’t get a chance to go out that night. The next morning, there was just a gorgeous orange glow — almost like an unusual, beautiful sunset all day.”

It wasn’t a sunset, of course, but the light from fires miles away.

Benjie King shot the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the smoky glow caused by wildfire. "You won’t see the sky like that again, hopefully, ever again,” he says. Photo by: Benjie King, Out West Photography
Benjie King shot the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the smoky glow caused by wildfire. “You won’t see the sky like that again, hopefully, ever again,” he says. Photo by: Benjie King, Out West Photography

I first saw King’s photos on the internet 150-odd miles from home, where I was stranded after Labor Day weekend. Driving toward home from Central Oregon on Sept. 8, we knew of the windstorm that had struck the coast the previous evening, closing U.S. 101, and of the fire raging in Otis and Rose Lodge.

It was sunny and clear in the mountains — though the evening before had been heavy with smoke — but we soon noticed a strange wind, not one direction or another, but swirling and oddly foreboding. And then we came to the turnoff for home and discovered the highways were closed. We could drive dozens of miles out of our way to take an alternate route through a landscape that might or might not be safe, or we could wait it out.

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Finding freedom in adversity

A pandemic, a wildfire – while the hits keep coming, the Lincoln City Cultural Center responds with an online fundraiser and a transition to arts incubator

Some people just can’t catch a break.

Yes, it’s a cliché, but clichés exist for a reason, and at the Lincoln City Cultural Center this one may seem doubly true. And still they rise.

Last spring, after the pandemic changed our world, the center made the difficult decision to cancel its annual Culture, Of Course! fundraiser. The 6-year-old event typically brings in $20,000 to $30,000, unrestricted operating funds the center uses for necessities.

Niki Price, co-chair of the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition and vice chair of the Oregon Cultural Trust, says of donating to the trust, “Once we convince a donor to do it once, we rarely have to resell that donor. Once you try it, you’re in.”
Niki Price, executive director of the Lincoln City Cultural Center, says with travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the center decided to focus its auction on adventure, “interesting things we could go and do and dream about, something great to look forward to.”

Then, after months of finding innovative ways of operating safely — streaming concerts, virtual workshops, drive-in movies, take-out art supplies — center leaders knew they were ready to bring Culture, Of Course! back in a new way. There would a drive-in movie screen, food provided and prepared by Kyllo’s and delivered to tables set up alongside cars, entertainment by the surf/punk band Retroactive Gamma Rays, an arcade, and auction.

Then the Echo Mountain fire blew up. Parts of Lincoln City were evacuated and Pacific Power crews took over the center parking lot as a staging zone.

Canceling the Sept. 19 in-person event wasn’t a hard choice — they had no choice. But they did have options and, of course, they grabbed one — an online auction.

“We focused on adventure,” said Executive Director Niki Price. “Given all the travel restrictions and the way we have been kept at home, we focused on interesting things we could go and do and dream about, something great to look forward to.”

The list of items continues to grow, and so far includes a biplane ride, a mushrooming camp at Camp Westwind, an art class and retreat at Sitka Center, and a plein air artist getaway in Baker City, including accommodations, a tour of downtown, a gift card for lunch, and an artist-guided day-long high desert plein air workshop.

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