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3 Things About Arts In The 2017 Oregon Legislative Session


In an Oregon legislative session dominated by a $5.3 billion transportation bill and discussions about corporate tax reform, budget writers were scrambling to fund key areas like child protective services.

Advocates had their work cut out for them finding funding and resources for arts and culture. But here’s a wrap-up of major happenings.

Capital Projects Are A Go

The Legislature approved some $6 million in lottery bond money for capital grants. Here’s a list of some winners.

  • Benton County Historical Society and Museum, Construction of Corvallis Museum — Amount recieved: $500,000
  • Cottage Theatre, Theatre Expansion — Amount recieved: $125,000
  • Eugene Ballet Company, Midtown Arts Center — Amount recieved: $700,000
  • Friends of the Oregon Caves and Chateau, Balcony Restoration Project — Amount recieved: $750,000
  • High Desert Museum, By Hand Through Memory & Art of the American West Gallery — Amount recieved: $125,000
  • Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Capital Campaign for Northeast Hancock — Amount recieved: $100,000
  • Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, Entertain the Future: Newport Performing Arts Center — Amount recieved:$300,000
  • Portland Art Museum, Connection Campaign — Amount recieved: $1,000,000

The Legislature also carved out capital cash through the Oregon Arts Commission budget, Main Street Preservation grants, and other general fund sources for key building projects like La Grande’s Liberty Theatre. (Together with lottery bond allocations, the Liberty will receive a $1 million boost in total from the state.)

At a hearing in May, Dale Mammen, the retired attorney leading the effort to remodel the theater, told lawmakers the historic theater is in such high demand that local groups started using it as it was undergoing renovation.

“During the last five years the various states of demolition has provided a home for the growing Eastern Oregon Film Festival, a temporary stage for an active new Shakespeare troupe, and a theater lab for Eastern Oregon University students to direct and perform plays,” he said. “There is no other venue like this is available in La Grande or Eastern Oregon.”

Kelly DuCote, on the Liberty’s board, added La Grande’s largest employer — Grand Ronde Hospital — and the Union County Chamber of Commerce both stand behind the project as an economic driver.

Who Shows Art in Rural Oregon?

Among the bills that passed this spring is one that requires the state arts agency to think about regional differences during the granting process.

Last year the arts commission decided Bend’s High Desert Museum — a sometime presenter of art exhibitions and classes — does not meet the criteria for certain kinds of arts grants. The museum’s director, Dana Whitelaw, countered that the museum’s mission is connecting people with nature and culture.

“Our closest dedicated art museum is in Eugene,” Whitelaw said, “Two and a half hours away.”

As the museum was disqualified from arts learning grants last year, another arts nonprofit, Arts Central, went under. With both organizations out of the picture, Whitelaw notes no arts learning dollars came to Central Oregon last fiscal year.

State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, responded with a bill that says the Arts Commission must use criteria that consider regional differences in public access: Who’s in a position to help people experience art in Oregon’s far-flung places?

A dozen people, including several prominent Central Oregonians, testified in support. Buehler defended the bill through its passage, saying it leaves room for Arts Commission staff to use discretion and prioritize the best projects.

“Access is only one criteria that should be used; there needs to be fairness and equity,” Buehler said. “The Arts Commission follows an objective and transparent criteria — that’s the objective of what we’re trying to do.”

Cuts For State Support Of The Arts

Perhaps the most critical piece of state arts funding can be found in the Oregon Arts Commission budget. This is where the rubber hits the road for artists’ grants, operating support for arts organizations and much more.

For the next budget cycle, Oregon's level of state funding places it 33rd in the nation for per-capita funding of the arts.

For the next budget cycle, Oregon's level of state funding places it 33rd in the nation for per-capita funding of the arts.

Courtesy of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

The commission is facing a 14 percent budget cut. With the overall state budget in such grim shape, reductions were expected. The budget committee overseeing the Commission’s parent agency questioned how some grant money was spent last biennium. It’s unclear how much of an impact this had on the percentage. But at the end of the day, budget writers were intent on holding the line for core services, like ensuring a full school day for public school students. That was going to mean cuts for services like arts and culture.

Brian Rogers, director of the Arts Commission, is thinking through how the cuts will be applied.

“Cutting across the board is one option but we are really trying to create parity in funding support for our organization,” Rogers said. “If their fiscal size and score are the same. They should be receiving the same amount from the arts commission. We’re trying to move toward that parity or equity between our funding amounts.”

Rogers says the agency will try to make up as much of the general fund cuts as it can.

Right now, Oregon spending on the arts stands at 55 cents per capita. Under this budget, Oregon will spend 46 cents per capita on the arts, landing it 33rd among the 50 states.

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