Stefan Strek poses for a portrait on April 4, 2024. (Alex Hernandez/Emerald)

Stefan Strek (Ace Dog) has worked in financial aid services, food service, support services for youth and adults in foster care, and family farm operations. He attended Lane Community College and the University of Caen in France, and graduated from the University of Oregon.

Arts and Business Alliance of Eugene proposed questions to all of the mayoral candidates regarding their support of arts and culture in our community. Here is what Strek had to say:

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

I absolutely love when people ask what art school is like, and what it takes to graduate, because it means they’ve thought about it for themselves as a goal in life. Tradespeople, bankers, doctors, lawyers, service industry, everyone has a unique style waiting to be discovered by the world. Everything and anything we experience can be viewed as an art. Mountain climbing, deepwater diving, gardening, conversation… even politics, are all unique art forms in my opinion. Everyone is an artist whether they know and recognize their own unique skills or still need time for revelation of their own personal excellence. 

I’ve always loved books, growing up I’d read through an entire book in a day, and would read through entire categories of books in the library.

My time at Lane Community College was very fulfilling, I took almost every art class they offer and was really impressed with the variety in the teachers different schools of thought. My BA is from the University of Oregon for Art in Painting. Everyone has doubts on their chosen path, but what inspires me most to continue making art is the consistency of interest people have in what it means to be an artist, what it takes to be an art graduate. There’s a certain beauty within “amateur” work which can never be matched by something hanging in a museum, and everyone deserves to be “discovered” in those moments where they doubt themselves. 

My favorite museum is the Rijksmuseum. In 2019, I purchased a 10 day unlimited pass for Amsterdam museums which gets you into every museum once, but being unaware I just kept visiting Rijksmuseum and they kept letting me in, every day. The museum staff came to recognize me well, I played chess with the groundskeeper. I love the De Stijl movement and their collection is what changed my view of modern art. Our community here in Eugene deserves to be recognized, appreciated, and encouraged as a home for artists who are ready to share their vision for a unique and irreplaceable world.

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

It would mean a lot to me if we could promote arts and culture events, like restarting The Eugene Celebration, hosting varied music festivals like blues and jazz, and using annual arts events as a way to grow retention of people who see themselves as artists. Currently, our traditional brand image as a place for artists, activists, musicians, is being overshadowed by an emphasis on sports culture. If sports enthusiasm was all it took to grow a thriving community, every Midwest city would have over a million people, they don’t. A successful diverse community needs the consistent growth provided by an enriched arts culture within the community. 

We need to protect library funding, no excuses. Thank you.

Many people move to Eugene hoping for a place to start new, express themselves, but they’re let down by how there’s a lack of funding for community events, arts, and cultural activities. If we want to help local business be successful, we need to increase retention of people who want, and need, to have annual arts events. Sports are great, but inherently seasonal, and winning teams change all the time. When people are encouraged, supported, and fulfilled in arts endeavors, we’re all winners, and it’s always a winning season.

I’d love to see an emphasis on local artists receiving city contracts for commission work. When new artists are discovered, their portfolios displayed, and their resumes have the opportunity grow, it attracts new people seeking the opportunity to be discovered here. 

Our parks are beautiful, and some of my favorite art installations abroad have been relatively small pieces installed in parks internationally. There’s no reason we can’t explore ways to allow art to be an expanded part of community enrichment. Our parks could facilitate inspiring art installations and musical events, I volunteered on the garbage/recycling crew for the Kaleidoscope Festival at Mt. Pisgah and am aware of the potential complications that need to be foreseen.

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?

Our library is one of the best in the World, and currently in danger of budget cuts and regressive underfunding in the current proposed City budget. This is an institution that needs to be protected, and could be much better used to engage the community. I believe we could be a World example by having the library open 24hrs a day. There are too many families suffering, and too many kids in school who don’t have a calm, quiet environment to work on school projects, and work towards their future, which is all of our future. The library deserves to be recognized as a facility that provides enrichment for everyone. The top floor is currently unused, and could be rented as a lounge/cafe to help fund the libraries expanded activities. The conference rooms could be better utilized for organizing community art displays to enhance people’s gallery resumes, helping us shine as a place where great artists have their beginnings.

Eugene would benefit from a kind of “City Pass” that allows for participation in community enrichment for low-income and marginalized communities. Facilities like the Eugene Science Center and Ice Rink are underutilized. I’d love to see things like seasonal art displays at the Ice Rink, ice art, lasers, music, and work that features international culture.

Subsidization of Summer Camp access for the Eugene Science Center, and outdoor camps utilizing Mt. Pisgah and the Arboretum, these are underfunded facilities that provide priceless enrichment for our community. Our musical facilities like The Shedd and Hult Center can also be better utilized to network with local schools and encourage new learning experiences for youth across the economic and cultural spectrum.

 More families would choose to settle down here if they had the security of knowing the “Eugene Roots” of being a community that encourages and promotes the arts for everyone. We’ve lost too many creative individuals and families who had to move due to a lack of engagement in their dreams. 

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

Too often, the people who need help most are overlooked in society. As a 21st Century City, we have an obligation to do better, for those with less. The foundation for equal opportunity comes from equal access, like how the library provides equal access to knowledge. We need to protect the library, it’s a valuable place where people can connect, see how others have built their dreams, and pursue a brighter future.

Eugene needs to protect and expand services, like childcare, within the library as a center of our cultural development, allowing and encouraging the most vulnerable families to have the best opportunities. Libraries don’t just build collections of books, they build communities. By giving everyone equal access to resources to learn about different trades, arts, history, we all become the best version of ourselves.

We need to provide an environment where people can feel safe expressing their own individual skills and creativity. Too often, arts contracts are limited to already published artists, and we can do more to provide these opportunities for people who have invested their time living here. Some of the best art isn’t made by people with art degrees, it’s made by bakers, cashiers, gardeners, and too often these people remain undiscovered. 

I’d love to see low-barrier art displays that allow inclusivity from people within all walks of life. For example, arts shows where we get to see the unique art made by groups of people within different professions would really amaze me. We could better publicize and incentivize these shows by allowing local bands and food carts, and using subsidized entry for marginalized groups to increase overall foot traffic which creates interest from tourists. All it takes is a cohesive vision to bring people together, and use our talents to their full potential. 

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?

I really do believe that we can set an example by increasing library hours to be operational 24hrs a day. There’s a lot of people who would benefit, many public school students don’t have access to a calm and quiet environment to work on school projects at home, especially since Covid and the current economic struggles people face due to stress from inflation and goods rising in cost. We can help young people by giving them a safe place to socialize while learning, and this can be an example to inspire other cities to do the same. It’s the people who struggle to do everything themselves who fall through the cracks of public services and assistance programs. 

How can we forget and neglect the students who live on the couch at their friends house, but don’t qualify for services because they’re not registered as homeless youth? These are the people who work hardest to overcome their circumstances, and we can give them opportunities to do great things with access to a 24hr public space to study, learn, and work for a better future. 

Everyone deserves to have the best start in life with their childhood experiences. It’s necessary to expand childcare services, using our resources like the library, Eugene Science Center, ice rink, and the Arboretum. We have the facilities, we just need to commit ourselves to prioritizing this funding. Subsidizing a network of childcare services throughout these groups just makes sense. Parents deserve to see their children benefit from the opportunities these facilities can provide, to see their kids artwork, hear their music, see their projects, and know their future is going to be full of every opportunity possible. The cost of funding childhood opportunities and education is nothing compared to the cost of denying or defunding those opportunities. We can inspire teamwork, and an entire generation of problem solvers, artists, creatives, this is what modern society was built for, helping us see a better future in the world. 

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?

Eugene can really become a 21st Century City with attention to building on the foundation of our educational establishments. We need to prioritize and value the Eugene Science Center, library, and our museums. The City can help facilitate programs that assist with teamwork between these educational services. For example, a program that would allow kids to attend the Science Center, Ice Rink, and history museum on the same day. We can streamline services to allow co-operation and provide much greater experiences for people living here, including children, parents and even college students working to study childcare services.

Defunding the library and necessary enrichment services should not be an option. With the right vision and communication, we will have no lack of funding. With responsible management, we will have no lack of support. I’m positive we can attract and maintain relationships with the wealthiest groups of philanthropists who will be proud seeing the results Eugene delivers. Converting our library to a 24hr institution for learning and cultural advancement will really help us glow on the world stage as a center where artistic minds travel to from all over the world. This is innovation, and innovation generates investment. 

I love this City, I believe in our community, and I believe with a consistent demonstration of our values by prioritizing library funding, we will attract attention from the most generous and well financed institutions. It’s really a question about teamwork, and I’d love to help our arts and culture community activists be the best team we can be. Our public facilities can better network with public and private donors, nonprofits, and entities to give local artists the best platform to help shape a diverse cultural future. It takes a proven history of dedication to earn the trust of financial stewards, we need to demonstrate our values by showing action that supports the arts, not just lipservice.