North Coast Journal


Who knew?

by Maka MacKenna


YOUR FAITHFUL CORRESPONDENT WAS startled the other day by something she read in The Regular Paper. One John Villani has written a book naming Eureka as No. 1 in his ranking of "The Top One Hundred Small Art Towns in America."

Who knew? I'd have thought it more likely for Eureka to be named No. 1 in per capita food stamps. A few years ago someone did pronounce us No. 1 in consumption of Tums and Rolaids tablets, not that anyone ever figured out why.

I read on looking for an explanation for why Eureka would be the No. 1 Small Art Town in America. What is this Small Art in which we excel? Is it miniature paintings on eggs and teacups? Cameo jewelry? Or perhaps something like the tiny popcorn figures I observed in the Beverly Hills home of a nice lady who was the world's foremost master of making -- and clothing -- little people and animals from popcorn and who had a letter from the Queen of England to prove it?

(Her late husband had designed the original King Kong, by the way. His Oscar was on the mantle and she let me hold it, the last time I'll probably get my hands on one. Yes, they're heavy.)

But I digress. No, it turns out the book claims that Eureka is the No. 1 "small town" which is also an "art town." The term "art town" is relative and refers, I assume, to towns in which art is created, shown, bought or sold with a frequency greater than, say, in Waco. Stand by for angry letters and e-mail from the ladies of the Waco Art League if they or their good ole husbands happen upon this magazine's Web page while surfing the 'Net.

Thank God there is a lively arts scene here and a bundle of talented people. What do you call a group of artists anyway? A collection? Whatever. In any event, the artists and their hangers-on in the arts councils and the gallery business certainly add to our quality of life.

"Quality of life" is defined as doing something you can't do in Winnemucca.

But I have trepidations about Eureka being labeled an "art town." Most art towns are wussy, picturebook villages like Carmel or Mendocino.

What makes Eureka so great is the same thing that makes it a bloody mess -- its reality. The funkiness, the beat-up warehouses, the working fishing boats, even the bums -- and our bums are the best, the absolute top of the line -- put us a cut above an "art town".

But conventional wisdom in the travel industry is that people want to visit storybook villages rather than real towns with real problems. So the art community and the Main Street folks have installed these well-named "phantom galleries." Fifth Street is now a Potemkin village of false fronts and camouflage. All this is invented to divert tourists toward Old Town and away from the suppurating core.

But I say our rotting downtown could still find its market. If it were carefully explained to the travel industry that Eureka is in fact the REAL Twin Peaks, we'd catch on after a while. I don't have any problem picturing Kyle McLachlan in Stanton's, do you?

One of Mr. Villani's reasons for our high ranking was that "Artists can make a living here."

He's right, artists can and do make a living here.

They bus tables, empty bedpans and a lot of them teach. Those who support themselves on artwork alone live sparely indeed. Eureka is a good art town in that you can get exhibition space. It's just hard to sell anything.

Anyhow, get ready for the influx. Dozens and hundreds of potters and printmakers will be saddling up the U-Hauls and heading West.

We're ready for ya. We're cleaning out our unused barns and garages and laying in extra stocks of acrylics and turpentine. Tums and Rolaids, too.

Just bring money.

Maka MacKenna is a Eureka free-lance writer.


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