While many travel to Eastern Oregon for its alpine trails and live-action rodeos, the region’s vast arts scene offers an adventure of the imagination. Summertime brings festivals, musical events and other outdoor spectacles to Baker, Union and Wallowa counties.
But the arts don’t hibernate once the leaves turn crimson. Arts centers, galleries, theaters — and even the sidewalks — spotlight a vibrant range of artworks and cultural events year-round. It’s easy to find them via the Northeast Oregon Arts Trail. You can cover the entire 225-mile scenic route in less than five hours and discover first-hand the newest art forms in the Old West. Or, make it an overnight to fully immerse yourself.
Art classes and exhibitions
Wherever you begin your arts trail experience, there’s a community arts center ready to orient you to town. In downtown Baker City, Crossroads Carnegie Art Center is the oldest continuously operating art center east of the Cascades. The center offers art classes and a new exhibition featuring a regional artist every month.
La Grande’s Art Center East has converted the former Carnegie Library building into a full-scale arts learning center. It offers arts classes for adults and children along with symphony and choir performances. Check out their latest exhibit and pick up a handcrafted souvenir from the stocked gift shop, which showcases works from 40 local artists.
A lovely drive along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway — with views of the snow-capped Wallowas — brings you to the artisan-heavy town of Joseph. (Note: The section of the byway between Halfway and Joseph is closed for the season between December and May.) Established in 2012, the Josephy Center curates a host of art and performance events. View the latest themed exhibitions and take time to explore the non-circulating Library of Western Culture & History upstairs. The library houses the collection of the late Alvin Josephy, a champion of Native American culture and history.
First Friday art walks and local flavor
Ambling past the historic buildings in downtown Baker City puts you in touch with its unique arts scene as much as its storied gold rush past. Jump on the First Friday walking tour any month to support the area’s ceramic artists, painters and other crafters while sampling chocolates, wines and the local arts vibe. The event kicks off at Crossroads Carnegie Art Center with an artist’s talk then relaxing stroll to the seven participating galleries. At Peterson’s Gallery and Chocolatier the spacious exhibition space features a rotating exhibition and hand-dipped truffles and drinking chocolates. Earth & Vine Wine Bar & Gallery offers something to sip while you view the selected artist’s work. The Broderick Gallery highlights contemporary works in a range of styles. For those yearning to venture beyond the city, Halfway Whimsical Artists Co-op in charming Halfway sells an array of local arts and crafts.
Pull into Joseph with its frame of alpine peaks and you’ll know why many have chosen it for a year-round artist’s retreat. Main Street is a cobblestone-lined arts walk with many galleries and street corners anchored by towering bronze sculptures. Aspen Grove Gallery, the oldest gallery owned by two renowned painters, also displays raku pottery, prints and hand-blown glass. In the renovated 1911 bank, Stewart Jones Designs hand-crafts award-winning jewelry. Phinney Gallery of Fine Art is another artist-own space with a museum feel and multimedia artworks and bronze sculptures. Valley Bronze is an awe-inspiring place to learn about the area’s bronze boom with foundry tours offered Monday through Friday.
Music, theater and history
The Elgin Opera House is the crown jewel of historic theaters in Eastern Oregon. Built in 1912 and renovated with a Rococo theme in blue and gold, the two-story opera house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The theater presents movies and theater performances year round, selling season tickets and single-performance tickets through its box office. Nearby in La Grande, Eastern Oregon University’s McKenzie Theatre features a full schedule of musical events from symphony to choir and is home to the Grande Ronde Symphony Orchestra.
While the circa-1889 Baker Orpheum Theatre undergoes a complete renovation, The Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre presents live theater performances in the Iron Gate Theatre space. The volunteer company hosts a half dozen shows a year, from Shakespeare to musicals. Ticket purchases and donations support the goal of rebuilding the home venue at the Orpheum by 2020.
One of the oldest continuously operating theaters in the country, the OK Theatre in Enterprise, originally built in 1919, has been converted from a single-screen movie house to a concert venue for major performance artists. Thanks to two recent grant awards, this old theater is getting a complete facelift and interior renovations.