The far reaching influences of Eugene, Oregon belie it’s small town roots: the University of Oregon Mighty Ducks, Nike and founder Phil Knight, Track Town and the 18th Track and Field World Champions. One lesser-known influence may reach a smaller audience, yet with equally impressive results.
Art of the Athlete, a collaborative initiative of the University of Oregon Department of Arts and Administration, John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes, and Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (JSMA), engages “UO student-athletes through the visual arts and service to children with disabilities…. Over the course of four weeks, the students learn diverse art techniques, including painting, mixed media sculpture, and photo transfer.”
Lisa Alba-Smith, JSMA Director of Education, explains that “we were dealing with a lot of athletes that wanted to talk about misperceptions. [They] were saying ‘There’s this misperception about who I am, I’m only an athlete, that’s who I am, I don’t have any other aspects to my dimension.’ I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to highlight the work of these athletes and show how art can really make what is invisible visible…. [W]e look at athletes and we see this incredible craft they can do in terms of sports but what the art does is it give them permission to tell a story or to reveal who they are.”
Tony Washington, NFL player for the Houston Texans and past UO Art for the Athlete participant agrees that art adds the missing dimension: “I like art because it helps me express my thoughts and my feelings more because I’m not really a talker, I’m not really open with my feelings. I feel like I can express myself through my paintings, through my drawings, or whatever I’m putting on paper. I can’t be judged by it unless someone really asks me what am I really trying to get out of this picture and then I can tell my story through that. I think it’s a different twist on life if you really think about it.”
Alba-Smith sees important connections: “Being an athlete is very similar to being an artist. You have to think about sequence and process and always be one step ahead so it’s been interesting when you think about these two identities that seem to be opposite, but really they have so much in common: art and athletics.”
De’Anthony Thomas, NFL player with the Kansas City Chiefs, reflects upon his experience with the Art for the Athlete workshops: “What I like about drawing [is to] be creative and just have fun. I like color schemes and making different shapes and just enjoying the art. I love having the control over it and [knowing] this is going on in my mind and just letting my hand go.”
Steve Stolp, Executive Director, Services for Student-Athletes of Academic Support, observes that Art for the Athlete “was by far the most significant project that immersed our student-athletes into the university community.”
References: Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon