The Regional Arts and Culture Council announced plans this week to lay off 15 employees and eliminate five vacant positions as part of an initiative to reflect “a new vision and priorities.” In a statement, council leaders said they plan to hire 15 new positions in the future to take the arts council in a new direction. The arts agency said it aims to reorganize and expand its advocacy and fundraising programs with a deeper focus on reaching underserved communities.

“We take this transition very seriously and deeply appreciate the work of RACC employees, especially those leaving the organization,” RACC board chair Linda McGeady said in a statement.

“These changes respond to what we are seeing and hearing from our community, and position RACC to better serve our region today and in the future.”

The proposed changes are a response to a 2018 audit that determined the city had failed to set budgeting priorities for the arts agency. Oregon Arts Watch reported that the changes come one year after RACC hired executive director Madison Cario, who’s leading the initiative. 

RACC Executive Director Madison Cario comes to the organization with a track record as an arts producer.

RACC Executive Director Madison Cario comes to the organization with a track record as an arts producer.

April Baer/OPB

“To achieve this vision, RACC needs to become more fiscally sustainable, diversify our funding sources and streamline our organization,” said Cario in a statement.

RACC is different than the city bureaus — it gets its money from the city budget, but functions under its own volunteer governing board. It also performs advocacy work and administers arts grants and technical assistance in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas Counties.

As part of the restructuring, RACC plans to create an advocacy team to make the case to the public and partners about the value of arts education and the city’s Arts Education and Access Fund. Portland’s “arts tax” puts money in that fund, where it’s distributed to school districts and grants for arts organizations.

“When RACC connects artists with resources, opportunities and each other, our communities become stronger,” said Portland Arts Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in a statement. “We have a vision of establishing RACC as a champion for arts and culture locally, regionally, and nationally. The organizational changes proposed by RACC will help us all better achieve that vision.”

At the same time RACC announced layoffs, it also said the management of The Right Brain Initiative, an arts integration program for K-8 students, will move to Young Audiences of Oregon & SW Washington, a nonprofit arts-in-education program.

RACC will present its “State of the Arts” report to Portland City Council on Feb. 27 at 2 p.m.