Bill Bulick, arts agency architect, has died

Bill Bulick built the Regional Arts & Culture Council into a model arts agency, imitated around the country

Bill Bulick, the architect of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the primary way government supports the art in the tri-county area, died yesterday in Portland. He had lived with Parkinson’s Disease for many years. He was 65.

When I first met Bulick in the late 1970s, he was affiliated with Artichoke Music, the great folk music center, attempting to get coverage for Artichoke shows. He was so earnest and so affable that his pitches were impossible to resist: He made me feel that I was doing a great service to the culture at large by helping to spread the word, and to this day, I think he was right.

By then, he had attended Reed College, the University of Chicago and Portland State, worked as a studio potter, and spent a couple of years in Ireland studying Celtic music. In 1983 he helped organize Wildgeese, the leading proponent of Celtic music in the Northwest, and he became the first program director at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Bill Bulick, here making a presentation in Bradenton, Florida, spread the arts plan behind RACC across the country.

The culture at large: Bill switched gears and careers, moving from the folk music niche into arts administration. His sense of fairness, his calm demeanor and his determination were a perfect fit in this role, and he quickly became a crucial figure at the old Metropolitan Arts Commission, Portland’s city arts bureau, which he joined in 1987. By 1989, he had become executive director, succeeding Selina Ottum, who had professionalized the arts commission before moving to the National Endowment for the Arts as Deputy Chair.

Building on Ottum’s legacy, Bulick supervised the nation’s first comprehensive regional cultural planning process, Arts Plan 2000. That document led to the creation of the Regional Arts & Culture Council, an autonomous nonprofit serving Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. During Bulick’s tenure the agency quadrupled in size to a budget of more than $4 million and more than 20 full-time staff, and it launched nationally praised and imitated neighborhood arts, youth-at-risk, public art, cultural tourism and arts in education initiatives. Our public arts funding environment still has the foundation that was created during Bulick’s decade as executive director.

“In the early ’90s we were a very small joint bureau of the City and Multnomah County, giving grants and managing the public art programs for both entities,” remembers Eloise Damrosch, who succeeded Bulick as executive director of RACC. “Believing that we could do and be more, Bill led the charge to undertake an ambitious cultural planning process. He engaged a prominent East Coast consulting firm, signed up hundreds of volunteers from four counties, assigned massive amounts of work to staff, and off we went. Out of several years of intense planning, goal-setting, bench-marking, and meetings emerged Arts Plan 2000. Many people helped create it but it was Bill’s dream, and he really laid the essential groundwork for what was ultimately to become the Regional Arts & Culture Council, a tri-county non-profit arts council praised by many to be one of the best in the country.”

Bulick left RACC in 1999 to become principal of Creative Planning, Inc., consulting with cities and states across the country to develop arts plans of their own. He worked on arts plans for Austin, Minneapolis, Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Prime Minister’s External Committee on Cities and Communities, Americans for the Arts, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Partners for Livable Communities, Institute of Civil Society, Washington State Arts Commission, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Colorado Council on the Arts, Ohio Arts Council, Cincinnati Regional Cultural Planning Committee, and Arts and Sciences Council of Charlotte, North Carolina, among many others.

Among his many affiliations over the years: board and executive Committee member of Americans for the Arts, member and past president of the US Urban Arts Federation, former member and chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Locals Panel (and also member of numerous other program and policy panels, including Arts in Education and Challenge), former board member of Oregon Advocates for the Arts.

Bulick is survived by his partner Carol McIntosh, daughters Eva and Bita, and grandchildren Kaleb, Darmon, and Dalara. Services will be announced at a later date. Contact McIntosh at carolm@easystreet.net if you’d like to be notified.

4 Responses.

  1. I’ve known Bill since the late seventies when we worked together at a Latchkey program for young children in Sellwood. At that time he was learning how to make pots and studying at Reed College. His ceramics were very well done and I still have a bread bowl he made. Later Bill taught himself the fiddle, practicing everyday sometimes underneath our hazelnut tree in Hillsboro. Then he started Artichoke music and after that became an arts administrator. Bill was an autodidact, if he wanted to know something, he would teach himself by doing. I admired his deep intelligence, his relentless curiosity and his kindness. I am so sorry to hear about his passing, he was one of the most accomplished people I’ve every met.

  2. Barry Johnson says:

    Thank you, Esther, for sharing that history with Bill.

    On Facebook, someone pointed out that Mike Pippi followed Bill as ED of RACC. Eloise served as interim director twice, the first time immediately after Bill left, before losing the interim tag. After Mike Pippi’s short spell in the job, she became interim again, before David Hudson was hired. After he left, she became ED.

  3. It is said that the measure of a life well lived is that when a name is mentioned, people smile. I am smiling now.

    Bill entered my life also through Artichoke Music back in the day when lingering below NW 21st was a form of vagrancy. Still have the glockenspiel and kalimba and ceramic flute I bought from Artichoke. Old Portland.

    Then I had the pleasure to play rambling music almost weekly with Bill on mandolin and the amazing Tad Leflar on guitar, and those were magical evenings until it got harder and harder to get together to play.

    As an arts manager and innovator, Bill Bulick stands tall and influential in establishing all of the arts as a major part of the Portland experience. But I live on knowing Bill as a brilliant musician and generous friend that he is and was…

    Always end the day in song.

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