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Gallery Reborn – Register Guard

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Owner of the shuttered Opus6ix has a plan for a comeback

By Bob Keefer, The Register-Guard

Opus is coming back from the ashes — emerging with a radical and perhaps even quixotic new vision of what it means to be an art gallery.

The upscale gallery called Opus6ix closed its doors June 30 after a five-year run in a retail space across Seventh Avenue from the Hult Center, another victim of the soft economy.

Owned by Oriental rug dealer Kaz Oveissi and his wife, Sally Dietrich, Opus­6ix offered fine regional painting and sculpture as well as jewelry and ceramics. Between the good art and Oveissi’s keen sense of hospitality and style, the gallery was a popular gathering center during First Friday art walks and for fashionable receptions put on by groups such as the Eugene Symphony and the Oregon Bach Festival.

Even after the business shut down, Oveissi opened the gallery’s doors last summer to host a memorial service for the late Eugene artist and designer Thomas Rubick.

It was as if the community wouldn’t let go.

For his part, Oveissi has never stopped dreaming about how to use the 6,000-square-foot property, which he leases from the city of Eugene.

So, over a cup of coffee last month at Perugino, the coffeehouse he owns around the corner on Willamette Street, Oveissi laid out his ambitious plan to reopen the gallery, with a grand opening in May.

He wants to make Opus VII, as the new business will be called, into not just a simple art gallery but a downtown cultural center unprecendented here or anywhere.

If the plan succeeds, Opus VII will be a combination art gallery, architecture and design center, membership organization and cultural hangout.

The new Opus will offer a wine bar, a liquor license that allows them to serve martinis, casual seating for customers who wish to hang out and a kitchen for catered events.

“I just wanted to do something spectacular,” Oveissi said. “This project is the culmination of everything I have done in my life. For me, it is very personal.”

A three-page prospectus describes Opus VII as a private business that shares many aspects of cultural nonprofit organizations.

Most notably, it will rely on memberships.

Oveissi hopes to attract as many as 2,000 members who will pay between $12 and $500 a month — each — to keep Opus VII operating. (The fee, he explains, will be on a “sliding scale,” as with so many Eugene events, determined by the customer.)

Membership will not be required to go into the gallery, but all members, whatever they pay, will enjoy discounts on art purchases, exclusive previews of changing exhibitions and the knowledge that they are helping a cultural institution. Higher-paying members will enjoy more privileges, Oveissi says, though he’s still working out the details.

The money, Oveissi says, will buffer the ups and downs of the art business as well as allow Opus to present noncommercial exhibits ordinarily seen only in museums.

But will people actually contribute money to keep a private business going?

“This project is really a little bit above and beyond just a business,” Oveissi says. “Intentionally I haven’t made it a nonprofit, although I’ve thought about that a lot. If I want to do it right, I need to be in control. I don’t want to be a dictator. But this is one of those projects that needs — we don’t want to have endless conversations about how great it could be. This is about actually executing it. And having it be incredible.”

Another unusual aspect of Oveissi’s vision is the Opus Prize, which he plans to award twice each year to honor individuals or organizations for their cultural work.

Each prize will come with a $5,000 check.

“I am not kidding,” Oveissi said. “I will have a three-member committee that will support me in determining who should be a candidate and, ultimately, awarding prizes.”

The membership scheme could put Oveissi on a collision course with nonprofit community arts centers such as the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts, which rely on similar community membership for financial backing.

DIVA Executive Director Mary Unruh offered a mix of support for and skepticism of the plan.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” she said. “We are all searching for creative ways to enhance the visual arts in this community. If he is willing to try it, more power to him.”

Unruh, though, had doubts that Oveissi would be able to generate a substantial amount of membership income.

“It’s hard enough as a nonprofit to get money from people. As a for-profit, doing nonprofit work, I think it will be doubly difficult. It might work in upscale New York. I will be real surprised to see it work here. I wish him luck.”

Private gallery owners downtown had fewer reservations.

“I am thrilled Kaz will be invigorating downtown Eugene with this new project,” said Karin Clarke, whose Karin Clarke Gallery is just around the corner from the planned Opus VII. “It was too beautiful of a space to waste. Kaz is always creating projects that will enhance and support downtown’s identity as the cultural center of Eugene.”

Opus6ix employed five people. Opus VII will have a staff of similar size. Oveissi has candidates in mind, but he hasn’t hired anyone yet.

Much of his vision for Opus VII involves using the Web. He envisions hiring a full-time social media director whose job it will be to get the word out through such avenues as Facebook, Twitter and a Web site.

“We want to take advantage of new technologies,” he said. “And that is very time-consuming if you want to do it right.”

There are, Oveissi acknowledges, no existing business models for what he plans.

“There are models out there on the Internet,” he says. “There are Web-based conversations bringing people together, such as Ted.com. They don’t have a venue, they just bring creative people together.”

He wants to bring creative people together and give them something interesting to look at. Oveissi was terrifically excited by last year’s “China Design Now” exhibit at the Portland Art Museum. The show offered examples of everything from architecture to skateboard art in contemporary China.

Oveissi wants to feature the work of local and regional architects and designers in the new Opus VII in what would be, essentially, museum-style displays.

“It was very inspiring,” he said of the Portland show. “I really got a sense of what’s going on in China. I want to introduce something like that here, on a very small scale.”

new art gallery

Opus VII

What: The former art gallery Opus6ix returns to downtown Eugene, with a new name and an expanded vision

Where: 22 W. Seventh Ave.

Opening: Around mid-May

Appeared in print: Thursday, April 8, 2010, page D1

original article here: http://special.registerguard.com/csp/cms/sites/web/entertainment/arts/24616088-41/opus-oveissi-gallery-art-vii.csp