A Troubling Pattern Developing in Salem

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Oregon Arts Commission Cancels Funding to the High Desert Museum

In the news recently is the announcement that the Oregon Arts Commission (OAC) has pulled funding of the High Desert Museum stating that it does not meet eligibility requirements for two grants that amount to about $20,000. The OAC cleverly determined that the grants were for arts-related organizations and the Museum does not fulfill the requirements because its ‘core mission is not related to arts.’
One argument with that assessment is that the Museum has several permanent art exhibits and features periodic art-related displays such as the current Art of the West and the Art for a Nation: Inspiration from the Great Depression as well as the ongoing Spirit of the West and Indian Nations of the Columbia River Plateau By Hand Through Memory.
It sounds like the OAC has now defined art as not being inclusive to history, culture and diversity.
Dana Whitelaw, executive director of the High Desert Museum explains, “We feel that the Commission’s new approach to determining eligible grant awardees will further concentrate funding in the Portland metro area and the Willamette Valley, where more opportunities for funding and arts programming already exist. That surely cannot have been the Legislature’s intention when establishing the Commission. Their statutes mandate funding for the arts in Oregon. Organizations solely focused on the arts have not been as successful in less populated regions of our State. Places like the High Desert Museum can bring art experiences to more rural communities — let’s support that model, too.”
The Museum contested the cancelling of the OAC grant and submitted that the Oregon Legislature provided that Commission’s objectives to complement, assist and strengthen existing programs and activities of private associations in the arts. To carry out those objectives, the Legislature has instructed the Commission to develop programs and plans that “encourage public interest in conserving and understanding the cultural and artistic heritage of the State and its people.” At its essence, that is the Museum’s core purpose and mission.
The cancelling of the Museum’s funding shouldn’t come as a surprise if you look at the bigger picture and see a pattern of Salem disenfranchising Central Oregon from arts funding.
In reviewing the OAC’s report identifying its FY16 Operating Grant recipients, the total number of grants was 182. Only 17 (about 9 percent) of those were to organizations located east of the Cascades. Correspondingly, about 9 percent of the funding went to these organizations.
Cascade Business News received a notice in June announcing FY2016 Career Opportunity Grants. The OAC, the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) and The Ford Family Foundation awarded $61,625 to 17 artists for career development projects. Not one from Central Oregon.
The OCF and the OAC partnered in March 2016 to provide additional funding for established literary and performing arts artists; a long-standing partnership with The Ford Family Foundation provides similar grants to established visual artists. The awards include $18,480 from the OAC, $23,145 from The Ford Family Foundation and $20,000 from OCF.
Not one artist from Central Oregon was awarded a grant. We asked the communications manager for OAC and the Oregon Cultural Trust, Carrie Kikel, why her response was: “Unfortunately most of the state’s artists live in larger cities. We work through all of our statewide contacts to encourage artists from rural communities to apply, but they represent a far smaller group of applicants.”
The Ford Family Foundation announced the selection of Oregon visual artists — five of Portland and one of Eugene — as the 2016 Hallie Ford Fellows in the Visual Arts. This is the seventh year of the $25,000 unrestricted awards to support Oregon visual artists and their exploration, conceptualization, production, exhibition and documentation of new work.
During the seven years not one Central Oregon artist has been selected for one of these awards despite local artists applying for this honor. I suspect that Hallie Ford, a philanthropist from Roseburg, Oregon who ‘left a legacy of support to the Oregon arts ecology’ would not be pleased about the Portland/Eugene continued limelight for her funds.
Another arts group, the Portland Biennial, claims to have “conducted a major survey of Oregon artists who are defining and advancing the state’s contemporary arts landscape.” The Portland2016 Biennial is a two-month celebration that showcases 34 artists at 25 partner venues in eleven communities across the state billed to be “the largest and most comprehensive survey of Oregon art, ever.”
Of the 34 artists selected for this showcase not one is from Central Oregon, in fact 20 come from Portland, one from Beaverton, one from Ashland, two Corvallis, eight Eugene, one Springfield and the only one from the eastside of the mountains is from Pendleton.
How could the curator Michelle Grabner (credentials include co-curator of the 2014 Whitney Biennial and senior critic at Yale University) who claims to have reviewed over 400 artist submissions and conducted more than 100 studio visits across the state completely overlook the talented contemporary artists in Central Oregon? Think Randy Redfield, Bill Hoppe and Sandy Brooke. Grabner claims her search to be the most extensive outreach to Oregon contemporary artists to date. She missed and/or ignored the High Desert.
The Portland Biennial includes exhibitions, events and performances in multiple locations through September 18. Biennial organizers asked COCC Pinkney Gallery and Art Adventure Gallery to host exhibits, but failed to mention that no local artist would be represented. The Oregon Cultural Trust helped fund the 2016 Biennial.
The Cultural Trust, established by respected and celebrated Ben Westlund of Central Oregon, depends on funding by volunteer donations via tax credits and cultural license plates. Ben would not be happy that the Arts Commission and the Trust have taken a limited view of art on the eastern side of the Oregon mountains and developed a pattern of exclusion.
I hope you will help me in expressing your concerns about the cancellation of the High Desert Museum funding along with the lack of attention of local artists by writing to the arts organizations and our state elected officials.
Oregon Arts Commission | Oregon Cultural Trust carrie.kikel@oregon.gov
Share your opinion with the governor at www.oregon.gov
Senator Tim Knopp sen.timknopp@state.or.us
Senator Doug Whitsett sen.dougwhitsett@state.or.us
Senator Ted Ferrioli sen.tedferrioli@state.or.us
Representative Mike McLane rep.mikemclane@state.or.us
Representative Knute Buehler rep.knutebuehler@state.or.us
Representative Gene Whisnant gene@genewhisnant.com

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About Author

Pamela Hulse Andrews CBN Publisher/Founder, Bend, Oregon

Thanks to getting fired 20 years ago by a previous publication, Pamela Hulse Andrews became the founder and publisher of Cascade Publications Inc. which publishes both the print and online versions of Cascade Business News and Cascade Arts & Entertainment. Pamela’s diverse business background gives her a broad perspective on the arts and business community. She has championed the growth of the arts in the high desert region and played a leadership role in connecting the dots between arts and economic vitality. She writes an assortment of monthly and weekly columns on local arts, politics, business and the economy, creativity and developing entrepreneurship.

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