ArtsWatch biz 3: The arts are critical to OUR success

Why should you become a member of ArtsWatch? Another link in the argument chain.

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Image by Andrew Parodi, via Wikimedia

Wednesday, I tried to make the general case for the importance of the arts (and thus, arts journalism), part of an ongoing effort to convince you to become a member of Oregon ArtsWatch. Because why would you support something that wasn’t important? I certainly wouldn’t!

Today, I’m moving on to the specific case: Why is a project like ArtsWatch important to the Portland metro area (where we’ve done most of our work) and the state of Oregon?

Actually, that’s an easy one for those of you who’ve spent any time at this website or following us on Facebook (which we heartily recommend!) or on Twitter (ditto!).  Three observations:

1. The number of artists of all sorts and arts organizations in Portland and the rest of the state is huge and growing. The work they do is both increasingly interesting and increasingly important, both locally and nationally. Portland is known for its food scene, sure, but its reputation as a place where music is made, theater produced, art is painted, built and assembled, choreography and performance art are pursued, movies are directed and literature is written, that’s national, too. The individual artists are important, of course, and so is the dynamic of the entire system.

2. Those artists are deeply entangled with the rest of the culture, especially the rest of the creative economy—from high- and bio-tech to clothing and shoe design to architecture. I wrote a little about that in a column that was a refutation of The Oregonian’s position that arts in the schools weren’t fundamental to the mission of schools. That story was picked up by ArtsJournal. But at least since Leonardo, we’ve understood that the relationships between art, design, science and commerce are close ones. Elizabeth Currid’s The Warhol Economy documented how that works in New York City, and Joe Cortright has made the same good arguments here (which I wrote about back in 2009).

3. Together, they (and we) create a culture that is changing faster, adapting better and responding more quickly to the problems it encounters. Not to be too boosterish about it, but the results are astounding: Portland is spoken of both as a national and even international city, not the regional backwater it seemed to be a few decades ago. A story on Slate gives some indication of how successful we’ve been. Neither Portland nor Oregon have mountains of gold or inland seas of oil or natural gas. We’ve never been wealthy compared to our neighbors on the West Coast. If we are going to succeed—either in staving off the sicknesses of the national culture or in developing our own—it will be because we are smarter, more creative and more collaborative than other places. And the arts have been and will continue to be central to defining and extending those qualities.

Now, ALL of this isn’t directly because of the arts, but the arts are involved, from Fishtrap to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. That’s what ArtsWatch has talked about from the beginning and wants to talk about even more.  We see so many opportunities to tell stories, to look into the way things are done here, to suggest improvements. And maybe more important, to establish a public forum for discussion and debate about the direction the culture is headed.

Next, I’ll talk a little more about Oregon ArtsWatch and why we set it up as we did, as a non-profit that needs your participation to succeed. But maybe you’ve heard enough, and you’re ready to join? Fabulous—just push the subscribe button now! Our memberships start at $35, but you can donate any amount you like. Or maybe you need some more convincing? Stay tuned…


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