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What Does It Mean To Support The Arts?


Dorie Vollum on the Wildwood Trail above construction for the expansion of Portland's Japanese Garden.

Dorie Vollum on the Wildwood Trail above construction for the expansion of Portland's Japanese Garden.

Aaron Scott/OPB

Because our mailboxes are flooding with requests for year-end giving, we’re listening back to an episode we did last year with philanthropist, instigator, and friend to the arts, Dorie Vollum, who also kindly came aboard as our guest curator.

This week, Vollum helps us explore what giving means — not just to the individual giving, but for the arts organizations on the receiving end, and how those relationships work. We look at her family’s deep history in the Portland economy and supporting institutions ranging from the Oregon Symphony to the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts. And we get personal with the people and institutions that Dorie personally has dedicated herself to, beginning with Menomena band member Justin Harris.


The Tectonic Shift That Altered Oregon - 6:03

How much of Oregon’s arts and culture has been fueled with oscilloscope money? More than you think. The Vollum family made its money at Tektronix, a hugely successful maker of testing and measuring equipment founded by Howard Vollum and Jack Murdoch (whose name tops another big foundation). The men started Tektronix after World War II to make a better oscilloscope. By 2007, the manufacturer was valued at $2.85 billion. Vollum and Murdoch both ended up distributing much of their wealth to organizations across the Northwest, although they went about it in very different ways. 

The Spirit of Tek


A new audience member discovers PICA's Time-Based Art Festival during soundcheck before the opening night party in 2015.

A new audience member discovers PICA's Time-Based Art Festival during soundcheck before the opening night party in 2015.

Matt Houlemard/Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

Grist For The Mill: PICA’s Origins - 13:39

The firebrand founder of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Kristy Edmunds, was a big part of what drew Vollum to join in among PICA’s early supporters. But there’s more to the story. We hear from Edmunds, architect Pat Harrington and former board member Peter Koehler Jr. about what drew each of them to the idea of a maverick contemporary art group that would form a link between Portland and the wider world. 

2016 UPDATE: PICA’s TBA festival is still going strong, and PICA has secured a game-changing asset: a 16,000-square-foot inner Northeast Portland space that is being leased to them rent free. The organization is rethinking its programming to suit its larger, year-round digs. 


Seeding the Portland Japanese Garden - 20:24

The Garden is near and dear to Vollum’s heart. Not only is it the first place her mother-in-law took her in Portland (the Vollums played a big role in its early years), but now she’s chairing the garden’s $33.5 million capital campaign with $9 million more to go. It’s thanks in part to her that this popular attraction keeps growing, up from 100,000 annual visitors to almost a half million this year. With the addition of its new Cultural Village and other improvements, the Garden now stands to be one of the most important Japanese institutions in the world, and the only place outside Japan that teaches the ancient art of Japanese gardening. We ask: what does it take to pull off something this ambitious?

2016 UPDATE: The main area of the Portland Japanese Garden has re-opened, the cultural village is well on its way to completion, and the whole garden is in the final stages of its final transformation. Vollum and Bloom are down to the final $5.5 million to raise, and the grand opening is scheduled on April 1 for members and April 2 for the public. For more on the expansion, we took a tour with our architecture critic-in-residence.

Architecture critic Randy Gragg takes us on a tour through Kengo Kuma's designs for the Japanese Garden and the Tokyo Olympic Stadium, as well as several highlights from Kuma's portfolio.


A bust of Fred Meyer at the offices of the Meyer Memorial Trust.

A bust of Fred Meyer at the offices of the Meyer Memorial Trust.

Photo by April Baer

How Will Shifts at Meyer Memorial Trust Impact Artists? 30:29

Significant changes are afoot in the upper end of Oregon’s foundations. In 2015, the Meyer Memorial Trust, the state’s third largest foundation, sent a shock wave through the nonprofit world, announcing it was taking a temporary hiatus on new grants. It gives a lot of money to a lot of groups, including arts and cultural groups, and it’s rethinking everything. We spoke with Doug Stamm, the ex-Nike executive who runs the Trust, and asked him how the changes at Meyer will impact Oregon artists.  


The Gift That Changed Everything - 40:36

In 2011, the Oregon Community Foundation got a call no one saw coming. The Portland manufacturer Fred Fields had died and left $150 million to OCF with the simple instruction: spend the money on education and the arts in Oregon. OCF did not have much arts infrastructure and suddenly found itself the biggest arts funder in the state. What do they do with those extra millions every year? They bet it on innovation.    

Interested in learning more about PHAME’s musical “Up The Fall”? Check out our story.

2016 UPDATE: This year, OCF gave out the third round of Creative Heights grants, totaling nearly $1 million to projects with XRAY FM, Southern Oregon’s Britt Festival, and independent productions for a number of theater and dance companies. 

Disclosure: The Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon Community Foundation, Paul G. Allen Foundation, and many other foundations and individual donors support Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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