Kaarin Knudson is a licensed architect, educator, and leader with more than 20 years’ experience advancing sustainable design and community-led solutions. In 2017, she founded the housing advocacy organization Better Housing Together (BHT), to increase housing affordability, diversity, and supply in Lane County, and in 2018, she was awarded the City of Eugene’s “Community Award.”  Knudson advised on the implementation of Oregon’s landmark middle housing laws and advocated for the creation of Eugene’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

She is a longtime member of the City Club of Eugene, and she served as its president in 2022-2023. As a collegian, she was Oregon’s 1999 NCAA Woman of the Year. She earned a master’s degree in architecture, bachelor’s degrees in journalism and design, and she has studied internationally in Japan, Italy, and Turkey.

Arts and Business Alliance of Eugene proposed the following questions to mayoral candidates. Here is how Knudson weighed in.

How integral are arts and culture to your personal life and experiences?

I am an architect, a writer, a design educator, and an artist. When reflecting on what is integral to my life, I think about connection, expression, integrity, and compassion – all values which the arts have helped me to deepen, expand, and share. 

The arts played an essential role in my upbringing – especially through music and the visual arts, but even occasionally in performance. Early forays led to more confident explorations as a young pianist and violist, then opportunities to explore formal education in design, writing, printmaking, painting, letterpress, and sculpture. From that foundation in studio art and creative nonfiction, I pursued my own creative work, practiced as a journalist and designer, and honed the skills that have supported my career in architecture. My bookshelves are filled with artists’ and architectural monographs; the walls of our home hold artworks carefully collected and curiously created. Our family lives a life in which the arts are essential, present and living with us every day. I received this gift as a young person, and it’s important to share with my own daughters.  

On a very personal level, the arts can be a place of expression and refuge. These days, I am most likely to play piano or create art when reflecting on the day. Music is always restorative and fortifying. When I sit at our piano, I feel connected to the generations of family who learned to play on it, to the distances it has traveled, and I recall my own childhood in my grandparent’s home. These memories I hold are not a part of the music – but, for me, they are part of the art. 

If elected mayor, would you prioritize arts & culture, and in what ways?

As Mayor, I will prioritize increased access to arts and culture programs, pilot neighborhood-based art projects, connect our recreational spaces with public art, and celebrate the work of artists of all ages. This is important to our cultural experience in Eugene, and to our economic prosperity and shared sense of belonging.

One way of increasing access to arts and culture programming is through expanded partnerships with our school districts and businesses. Student art exhibits and programs that assemble work from students across the community are two reliable ways to bring more kids and families to our city’s public spaces, including the new City Hall. 

I am also excited to build on connections among our community-based organizations and neighborhood associations to develop neighborhood-specific arts programs akin to the 20×22 mural project–in this case, it could be more like 23×26 and include new, community-created placemaking projects with all 23 neighborhoods. I look forward to supporting new models of equitable public engagement that we have piloted with local housing policy work, but we also need opportunities to engage in civic life that is neither testimony nor policy. Art opens the door to that experience.

Eugene is also internationally known for our recreational spaces, trails, and open space. I would champion a program to integrate new public art among our most storied bike trails, park overlooks, running trails, and gathering spaces. Many people living in or visiting Eugene experience our city primarily through recreation, and this presents a great opportunity to share our arts and culture in a new way.

If elected, how would you propose ensuring that all residents, including those from underserved communities and marginalized groups, have equitable access to arts and cultural programming?

Expanding access to arts education is a funding and engagement challenge, but I am confident we can make arts and cultural programming accessible to people in all areas of our community. In some cases, community-wide events or celebrations draw many people to a single location in Downtown or Alton Baker Park–this is important for placemaking and to build shared, civic memories. As Mayor, I will work to expand this type of large-scale programming to a new location in Bethel or North Eugene, and I will also work with our Cultural Services staff to bring new music programming in Downtown. At large-scale events, a wide range of food, activities, and low cost transportation options support their appeal, accessibility, and success.  

In other cases, we can meet this goal by expanding exciting programs like “Cultural Currents” through more areas of Eugene. We also have great opportunities for partnership with Lane Transit District with new transit stops and stations, and to partner with our neighborhood associations on beautification and placemaking projects. As Mayor, I will support the creation of a community arts program that engages and celebrates the community in Eugene’s distinct neighborhoods. Working with neighborhoods and CBOs to design this program would be one step toward expanding equity; the outcomes could be the creation of new public art, installations, or furnishings. 

If elected, how do you envision leveraging arts and culture to cultivate empathy and build bridges within Eugene, fostering a more inclusive community?

Arts and culture are a means of expression, connection, and joy. Our community faces some incredible challenges and serious work in the years ahead — housing, homeless, climate, and racial justice among them. To meet these challenges, we will need to build new connections that allow for us to remain connected and empathetic as we navigate challenging work and change. Community arts and culture programs will help us to do that, by inviting people into spaces and places where the first step – connection – comes naturally. 

Our arts and culture programming can be leveraged in support of this work through programming that allows people to gather and share experience, and through works and installations that allow for reflection and contemplation. Art can also help to prompt and sustain our conversations and continued work. It is no surprise that efforts to support the arts, the outdoors, and a sense of belonging are so central to so much of our work.

If elected, what strategies will you implement to ensure the effective integration of arts education into both formal educational settings and community programs, with the aim of igniting creativity and nurturing a deeper understanding and appreciation for cultural diversity among young people? Max 2000 characters.

The Mayor has many opportunities to support and highlight the integration of arts education in community programs. For example, the annual Mayor’s Art Show and the Mayor’s Teen Art Show in partnership with Maude Kerns are incredible opportunities to celebrate local artists.  I can’t wait! As Mayor, I would support expanding engagement with these programs through an “Arts in Schools” handout and art contest that goes to all 4J and Bethel students. These exhibits and the invitation to enter is a remarkable opportunity to connect with kids and families all across Eugene.  

With the new City Hall opening in 2024, we also have an opportunity to feature art and rotating exhibits in a newly accessible public building — one that is free to visit and belongs to the people of Eugene. I will support the use of this exhibit space as a centerpiece for our arts and culture community. 

Furthermore, the permanent collection and exhibits in City Hall can support a larger and more adventurous engagement with arts and culture throughout the Downtown Riverfront and adjacent districts. Fifteen years ago, I worked on the development of the Downtown Riverfront Master Plan and the “Cultural Landscape” concept that has guided the development of public space as a rich, layered, teaching landscape. Especially for young people, there are many opportunities to teach about our history and future through interpretive and artistic installations in this area. I am excited to see this vision come to fruition in the decade ahead, and especially to continue the work of honoring our community’s Black history — which has roots along the north bank at the Ferry Street Community site and the historic Mims Houses — but reaches all across Eugene.

Partnerships play an important role in arts & culture. How do you picture those partnerships playing out between the city, nonprofits, artists and other entities if you’re elected mayor?

Partnerships will be so important to what we can accomplish in the years ahead. My mayoral candidacy is unique in that I have a breadth of local experience and a proven track record of working with diverse perspectives to build new partnerships in Eugene. 

I will bring these trusted relationships and decades of local experience to the work of serving as our next Mayor. I see pragmatic and exciting opportunities for partnerships with our schools, as well as with nonprofits already working to support arts and culture curricula in our community. 

The Mayor also has an important role to play as our only city-wide elected official, and I’ll work to reach out to our community and invite new participation with city programming. It’s also important to me that we remain dedicated to sharing news and opportunities – be it through social media channels, direct outreach, or traditional media – so that we can engage more of our community and build a brighter future for all. I believe the skills and relationships I have built over 20 years in Eugene will help us to further develop and celebrate arts and culture in this community. We will all benefit from that experience.