A group of state lawmakers have formed the first-ever Arts and Culture Caucus in the Oregon Legislature. The bipartisan caucus is being convened to help arts venues and organizations still recovering from the effects of the pandemic.
“We are 36 among the 50 states in terms of art funding, and the goal in that listing is to be closer to number one, not closer to the bottom,” said Democratic state Rep. Rob Nosse, whose district covers parts of northeast and southeast Portland. “We can get the Arts and Culture Commission’s budget to come up. We can do a better job in the capital construction space of supporting venues and theaters that need a remodel or a retrograde.”
State Sen. Dick Anderson is one of two Republicans who serve on the nine-member caucus. Anderson was once the mayor of Lincoln City, an experience that shaped his thinking around the economic and recreational benefits arts organizations provide to regions already popular with tourists.
“I know it’s hard to believe that people want to do more than just watch the ocean or take hikes,” Anderson said. “They need other things to do every once in a while when the climate may not be quite as inviting to be outdoors,” he said.
Congress allocated more than $700 billion in direct aid to state and local governments as part of the trillions of dollars it has passed for pandemic relief. That money helped not only businesses, but also nonprofit arts and culture organizations such as museums and galleries survive. But as that federal aid comes to an end, attendance and ticket sales continue to lag behind their pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s just that we’re not getting people in the seats yet,” Nosse said. “This isn’t just an Oregon phenomenon. You’ll hear about Broadway complaining that New Yorkers have not come back to the theater to watch plays and shows as well.”
Nosse introduced a bill this legislative session that would distribute $50 million in state arts funding through 2024. It would help fund not only major venues such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival but also smaller, independent venues such as the Cascades Theatrical Company in Bend.
Funding for the arts will also compete with other legislative priorities such as health care services, affordable housing and homelessness. But Anderson believes the caucus can help fellow lawmakers recognize the value of supporting the arts at the local and state level.
“Arts and culture formulate and encourage a healthier community, healthier body, and it’s just something that I think is really important for the citizens of Oregon,” he said.
The Arts and Culture Caucus will hold its first meeting on Feb. 8. It is scheduled to meet every three weeks through the current legislative session which ends in late June. The public is invited to attend an inaugural launch event with members of the Caucus on Feb. 27 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem.
Oregon state Rep. Rob Nosse and Oregon state Sen. Dick Anderson spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller. Click play to listen to the full conversation: