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Karen Olch

After high school in Bethesda, Maryland, close to DC, where her dad was a pathologist with the NIH, Karen Olch began her career as a "certified wanderer." She spent that summer on a farm in Vermont, picked up odd jobs in New England and Arizona, eventually studied sign language and worked 11 years as a interpreter in Tucson. "I came here to see trees and water," says Olch, who moved to Oregon for an interpreting job at OSU in the early 90s. Though the job was soon contracted out, she sold eggs and ducklings from her small farm until 2000, when she left for more wanderings: New Zealand, Europe, and Eastern Canada. She came to Eugene in 2004 to earn a BFA in fiber arts. "I'd bike through downtown and wonder, 'Who are these kids?'" says Olch, who began offering "art opportunities" at New Roads drop-in center. "I became immersed in the world of street youth." In 2009, she launched the Youth Empowerment Project, a summer-long series of art workshops for disadvantaged youth, culminating in an exhibit at the DIVA Gallery during the Eugene Celebration. "I love working with these kids," says Olch, who currently offers weekly drop-in sessions at MECCA, the Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts.

happening people

photograph and story by Paul Neevel

Eugene Weekly / 23 December 2010

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