State of Wonder

Committee Seeks Equity, Relevance In Hiring Portland's Next Arts Chief

By April Baer (OPB)
Portland, Oregon Oct. 7, 2017 1:32 a.m.
Portland Timbers President of Business Mike Golub has also served on the board of the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Portland Timbers President of Business Mike Golub has also served on the board of the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Courtesy of the Regional Arts and Culture Council

It’s been nearly eight months since the search committee formed to find a new executive for Portland’s Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC). We spoke about priorities with board chair Mike Golub (President of Business for the Portland Timbers and also a member of the OPB Board) and Steve Rosenbaum (founder of Pop Art marketing mobile app developer), who chairs the search committee.

Q&A with Mike Golub and Steve Rosenbaum

April Baer: How would you characterize the state of RACC after Eloise Damrosch’s departure? 

Mike Golub: RACC is a formidable organization. It's really, in many ways, become what the city envisioned. Work for Art (RACC's workplace giving program] has raised nearly $8 million of rights 10 years in existence. Right Brain Initiative [an educational effort to include arts in prep for standardized tests] now service more than 27,000 kids annually. The public art program curates 2,000 art pieces around our city. RACC has granted more than $44 million to artists and arts organizations. I think many people out of the center of that circle don't realize all that RACC does. Eloise was an instrumental part in growing all those things.

Steve Rosenbaum: Eloise did an amazing job setting up RACC as a financially sound organization. It really is involved in every facet of public art in the city. We are really excited about the legacy that we have to build on here.

Steve Rosenbaum stepped in as chair of the RACC executive search committee.

Steve Rosenbaum stepped in as chair of the RACC executive search committee.

Courtesy of the Regional Arts and Culture Council

Baer: What kinds of things have the committee been talking about in terms of RACC's future?

Golub: There's a bit of an inflection point. The established arts organizations are growing rapidly. There has been an influx of new arts organizations that RACC is working hard to support. The housing situation that we all find ourselves in has huge implications. We've got to preserve and keep our art spaces. Ultimately whatever solutions are devised will have to be a public-private partnership. The impetus for the discussion really should and are being born at City Hall. We see our role is being a catalyst to some of those conversations.

Baer: RACC sent out a survey asking for community input on the search. What did you hear?

Rosenbaum: Part of what we are trying to do is keep the arts and culture really relevant. We want art to be not just tagging along with the conversation. We want a leader who can help put art and culture at the front of the conversation — someone who can take existing arts organizations, artists, communities of color — really, RACC belongs to the entire city and the entire multi-county region. We want somebody who's going to help RACC be that vehicle for everyone.


Baer: Arts Workers for Equity (AWE) has come to the board with a lot of thoughts on this. How much of what they asked for can you agree to?

Rosenbaum: I'm hoping that the new executive director is going to come in and not just impose a vision that help build a collective community vision about what arts and culture are going to be and satisfy all the stakeholders, in the long run. In the short run stakeholders like AWE will hopefully be happy. They may not get everything they want in the new hire, but I think they will be pleased overall with it.

Baer: Have you talked about whether the person to fit this job lives in Oregon right now?

Golub: Yeah, we have. We are trying to keep an open mind and let the process yield a wide range of candidates. We would be disappointed — and frankly surprised — if there are not some really strong candidates from Oregon.

Rosenbaum: The equity leadership we're looking to do is somewhat cutting edge. It's one of the reasons I think it's going to be an attractive position to candidates. I think there are a number of qualified candidates both locally and nationally who could fill the role.

Baer: What role will public process play in the search?

Rosenbaum: We have put together a diverse selection committee that includes board members, former board members, members of the community. We are also committed to a very transparent process, as transparent as possible. We have done the community listening survey. We are trying to find the right balance. We've had a lot of discussions about: When do you have public forums? How do you present multiple finalists? We don't necessarily know the answers yet.

Baer: I heard the committee had to part ways with the initial search firm (Aspen Leadership Group). True?

Golub: No, not exactly. We had some internal work to be done, figuring out a process, before we could make a really sound decision on the search front. So we probably hired Aspen too soon in the process. This happens.

Since our conversation, RACC has announced that Koya Partners will consult on the search, going forward. Koya staffers met with stakeholders in Portland at the end of September.

Baer: Eloise Damrosch was around for a long time — almost 30 years. Is it reasonable to think the next person will have a long tenure as well?

Golub: We certainly hope so. We want to hire someone who's going to be with us for a while.