THE Rogue Valley of southern Oregon is not a place typically associated with issues of international importance, unless one stretches that to include log exports to Japan. If one has heard of this lovely place at all, it's probably because of its top-notch regional theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, or Harry and David's mail order fruit business up the road in Medford. But over the past two months, world hunger has been on just about everbody's mind here, thanks to a cornucopia of lectures, panel presentations, workshops, and classroom discussions on famine and chronic hunger around the world. And in the best tradition of ``think globally, act locally,'' schools, churches, businesses, service organizations, and the media have been pitching in to help those in the community without enough food.
The focus for all this activity is a world-class event at Southern Oregon State College's Schneider Museum of Art. The ``International Art Show for the End of World Hunger'' features works by Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Beuys, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and 37 other painters and sculptors - along with mounted quotations from the writings of Heinrich B"oll, G"unter Grass, Arthur Miller, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, and others.
The show, which originated in Minneapolis in 1987, was organized by art teacher Ana Cristina Bozzo of Hunter College in New York. It has since been exhibited in a dozen European cities to considerable acclaim and is scheduled to go to Tokyo later this year. Its appearance here (through this Friday) is the only one on the West Coast of North America.
How did a town of 16,000 ace out Los Angeles to join such august company? A chance visit to the show in Amsterdam by an Ashland museum volunteer, followed by some persistent telephoning to New York while two museums in L.A. dawdled over which should get it.
In tone and message, the works range from the haunting (Helmut Middendorf's ``Child'') to the hopeful (Antonio Segui's ``Food for Everybody''). Some pieces are explicitly political: Walter Dahn's painting is titled ``Man Crying Because Capitalism Is the Most Barbaric of All Religions. It Creates and Tolerates World Hunger.'' Others, like Richard Hamilton's ``Mother and Child,'' are more evocative.
In the exhibition catalog, Patterson Sims poses an important question: ``Perhaps all the money and effort exerted for this show might be better spent to directly assist those in need. Can we calmly consider painting and sculpture as people die for lack of food and shelter?'' International agencies estimate that 35,000 people perish each day from lack of nourishment.
But then Mr. Sims (curator of modern art at the Seattle Art Museum) answers the question this way: ``The work of these international artists has been brought together to encourage cognition and change. Their expressions need no translation; their entrance into our consciousness is silent and, it is hoped, subversive, making us face what we would otherwise avoid.''
In a message accompanying his work ``The Classics,'' German painter Jorg Immendorff says simply, ``All we can do is paint - everything else is up to the politicians. We can create moral pressure and invest our prestige to express the issues to the public. We are not the powerful in the country. All we can give is our work. Painting has a mysterious, indescribable entry into the human spirit.''
And it is through that entry into the human spirit - more than simply a collection of high-value works by renowned artists - that the hunger exhibition works best. Reports from cities where the show has traveled indicate a snowball effect in raising public consciousness among those for whom hunger is not a personal issue.
In Cologne, West Germany, 34 cultural and fundraising events accompanied the exhibit. In Stavanger, Norway, there were children's contests to produce essays and paintings on world hunger. School children in Minneapolis put on a special puppet show.
Here in Ashland, the local art association is sponsoring its own juried show to raise funds for the hungry. Banks and supermarkets helped organize food drives. And Southern Oregon State College has sponsored a series of lectures with titles like ``The Dilemmas of Improving Food Productivity in Sub-Sahel Africa'' and ``...Creating the Political Will to End Hunger.''
Schneider Museum director Greer Markle says, ``The response has been extraordinary, at least two or three times our normal visitation.'' It's not unusual, he says, to see ``a lot of bikes parked outside.''
On a recent Thursday afternoon, math teacher Brent Freeman marched his eighth-grade home room from the Ashland Middle School to the museum. Students not only got an outstanding sampling of contemporary art, but each had brought a packaged food item from home to donate to a local relief agency.
More than 3,000 4th and 5th graders in Jackson County will have seen the show, and many are part of a ``potato planting project'' whose harvest will be donated to a food bank. ``They realize that hunger really is an issue here,'' says Mr. Markle, whose son is a 5th grader. ``He'll grow up with that, and that's good. ... That's where the significance of the show really lies.''