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Art on the Hill: Bill Hoppe on a decade of art on the campus of COCC 

It's the first day of the spring term and Bill Hoppe's office on the bottom floor of Central Oregon Community College's Pence Hall is nearly as messy as the construction that's snarling uphill traffic on the expansive campus.

click to enlarge culture_bill-hopp.jpg

It's the first day of the spring term and Bill Hoppe's office on the bottom floor of Central Oregon Community College's Pence Hall is nearly as messy as the construction that's snarling uphill traffic on the expansive campus. Files and papers cover most of his desktop and there's little floor space not occupied by boxes of artwork and stacks of other framed pieces of art. The office's disarray isn't off-putting, but rather inspirational - like it's overflowing with creativity.

Hoppe has been teaching at the college as an associate professor of art for more than 10 years now and recently staged a show at the school's library that featured pieces from his decade at COCC. He's a painter who, before coming to Bend, made his living as a studio artist and he continues to create his own pieces during the summer. But during the school year, Hoppe devotes much of his attention to his students and in the process has added another segment, albeit often ignored, to the Bend art scene with ongoing shows and exhibits up at the college's Pence Gallery in the Pickney Arts Center.

Outside his door, Hoppe's students are gathering for the first session of the term and the makeup of the class isn't perhaps what some might expect from a community college art class. The students vary in age from 18 all the way past retirement age. Hoppe says this is hardly out of the ordinary.

"Anybody with a desire to create something is always welcome. That's really the only requirement: the desire to create," says the 65-year-old professor who says he's got at least five more years of teaching in him, or more if the college will let him stick around.

Hoppe makes his way around the office, showing some pieces his students have completed over the years. These pieces were all part of the recent 10-year retrospective, which included artists from his tenure at the college who he was able to track down or had kept in touch with over the course of the past decade. There's a skateboard deck emblazoned with elaborate graphics, a simple yet impacting painting of a stick figure holding a knife and then a piece featuring the collaborative work of Cara Thayer and Louie Van Patten, a young married couple who paint on the same canvas. The piece is a close up shot of what seems like a vampire mouth biting the neck of a seemingly unsuspecting victim. Hoppe holds up the painting, clearly proud of his two students, who have gone on to garner plenty of attention in the local artistic community.

While he wants his classes to remain welcoming to all artists, Hoppe says there's something uniquely interesting about the work of Bend's young people. In short, he says they tend to perceive different elements of our society and then reflect those in their work.

"A lot of the art is done by the young people in this community. They see things - the alienation, daily life, crime or what have you - that we might not see," says Hoppe. "They participate in the real culture of our community. They're who we really are."

Now, a decade after first arriving at COCC, Hoppe wants to bring more people onto the campus to see its students' artistic creations, which he says are as high quality as anything else being created in town. With exhibits in the library, the Pickney Gallery and in installations elsewhere on the campus, Hoppe says the students have plenty of work to share with the public, even if people might need to travel outside of the familiar art spots in town. Sure, it might be a bit of a drive, but there's always public parking to be found at the library, and it's only a short walk to see the work that the school has been cranking out.

"A painting isn't finished until someone sees it. It plays a role in the imaginative life of the community," says Hoppe with a smile.

Then, minutes later, he's striding out into the open studio that serves as his classroom and greets the term's new students with the same pleasant grin, perhaps because he knows they could be the artists creating the pieces that will mark the next ten years of his time at the college.

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