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Something's Got To Give: Philanthropist And Guest Curator Dorie Vollum


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

Philanthropist. Instigator. Friend to the arts. Dorie Vollum is all of these, and also, this week’s guest curator on “State of Wonder.”  

We’re talking about giving and philanthropy, and Vollum is what we’d consider an expert. She’s been instrumental in the growth of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and the Portland Japanese Garden, leading a capital campaign for the Garden’s current expansion. Her husband, Larry, has been on the board of the Oregon Symphony for six years, plus several others.  

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. We get personal with the people and institutions the Vollums have touched, beginning with Menomena band member Justin Harris.

The Spirit of Tek

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 Tektronik 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 a lot of their wealth to organizations across the Northwest, although they went about it in very different ways. 

Grist For The Mill: PICA’s Origins - 13:47
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, fundraiser Phyllis Oster, 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. 

Renderings of the new Cultural Village currently under construction at the Japanese Garden. It's being designed by the star Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. It's his first project in America.

Renderings of the new Cultural Village currently under construction at the Japanese Garden. It's being designed by the star Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. It's his first project in America.

Courtesy Japanese Garden

Seeding the Portland Japanese Garden - 23:38
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. It’s thanks in part to her that this popular attraction keeps growing, up from 100,000 annual visitors to 350,000 in the last decade. A newly expanded garden will reopen to the public next spring, but construction won’t be done until 2017 and the campaign is still about $9 million short. What’s the plan?

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? 32:52
Significant changes are afoot in the upper end of Oregon foundations. This year, the Meyer Memorial Trust sent a shock wave through the nonprofit world, announcing it was taking a temporary hiatus on new grants. The Trust is the third largest foundation in Oregon. 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 Meyer will impact Oregon artists.  

The Gift That Changed Everything - 45:18
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. He left two instructions: 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 that extra $3 million a year? They bet it on innovation.    

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

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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