From the bridge that crosses the Estuary of Bilbao, the museum looks like a gargantuan ship, perhaps a relic of the Basque city’s seaport past or maybe a visiting vessel from a distant galaxy. At night, the titanium skin of the curving hull glows with light reflected from the bustling downtown that surrounds it.
Walk from the Guggenheim toward the Old Town on a Friday night. You will find yourself in the midst of a block party that flows from street to street through the entire city. Is this some sort of celebration that defies stories of European Union economic stagnation? Whatever is going on, everyone seems involved: families with strollers gathered around tables outside bistros, old folks strolling the boulevards, middle schoolers hanging out in plazas.
So how is this like Ashland?
Both cities have hung their economic hats on art. Bilbao has its stunning Frank Gehry monument and the priceless collection of modern art that it shelters. We have our Elizabethan Theater and all the artistic energy that flows from the world-class repertory theater that inhabits it.
Before the leaders of Spain’s Basque provinces called up Mr. Gehry, Bilbao was a declining artifact of an industrial past, a European Detroit. Before our Oregon Shakespeare Festival evolved to its current glory, Ashland was a leftover mill town in a timber empire that had already seen better days.
Also, both cities value the sort of community that comes from rubbing shoulders and perhaps enjoying a convivial glass of wine in an unplanned, public way. Bilbao has its perpetual street party in a compact city where all of outdoors is a vibrant public space.
We have our First Friday Art Walk.
If you enjoy the First Friday experience, consider getting behind folks who are working to encourage such activity. A few of our civic leaders are looking for ways to create and vitalize more public space in the downtown. Our Chamber of Commerce and business activists work tirelessly to strengthen community synapses. A few attaboys might help keep them inspired.
Meanwhile, a tiny hamlet in the mountains to the east is showing the way. Mark your calendar for the annual Green Springs Winterfest on Saturday, December 6, starting around 9:00 AM at Green Springs Inn. You will see art and community in action: country music, crafts fashioned by Pinehurst School students and their creative parents, a wine tasting, freshly harvested Christmas trees, cappuccinos and homemade sweets. We are talking a micro-Bilbao, maybe with snow.
Who needs Frank Gehry?