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Artists & politicians get down and party

Legislators and cultural figures gather at Salem's Elsinore Theatre to launch the Legislature's new Oregon Arts and Culture Caucus.

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Pianists Hunter Noack (feft) and Thomas Lauderdale brought their four hands to a resounding “Rhapsody in Blue” Monday night at the legislative Arts and Culture Caucus launch in Salem. Photo: Elayna Yussen

It was party time in Salem Monday evening when Oregon arts leaders and legislators gathered at the Elsinore Theatre to celebrate the launching of the Oregon Arts and Culture Caucus, a growing group of state senators and representatives working to advance the interests of arts and cultural groups in the state budgeting process. Oregon ArtsWatch wrote in depth in the story A legislative caucus for the arts about the formation of the state’s first-ever culture caucus and the bills it was focusing on in the current session.

About 350 people showed up Monday for ice cream, greetings, a little entertainment, and a few brief speeches. Central Oregon hip-hop and visual artist MOsley WOtta was emcee for an evening that also featured performances by Charro/Mexican horseman Antonio Huerta, who twirled a fancy lasso; the Salem-Keizer School District Trumpet Quintet; and pianists Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini and Hunter Noack of In a Landscape. Speakers included Oregon Arts Commissioners Subashini Ganesan-Forbes, David Harrelson, Jenny Green (chair), and Harlen Springer (vice-chair); plus Niki Price, chair of the Oregon Cultural Trust; J.S. May, president of the Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon; Rep. Rob Nosse (D-Portland), coordinator of the Arts and Culture Caucus; and members of the caucus.

Gathering in the lobby of the Elsinore to celebrate the launching of the caucus. Photo: Elayna Yussen
Antonio Huerta, rounding up the applause. Photo: Eleyna Yussen
Rep. Rob Nosse (D-Portland), caucus coordinator, talking to the crowd. Photo: Elayna Yussen

The caucus came together in part in recognition of Oregon’s low state funding of the cultural sector (36th among the states), and in recognition of the severe financial strain on arts and cultural groups since the beginning of the pandemic. Figures from the national lobbying and support organization Americans for the Arts suggest that although the culture sector has an $8 billion impact on the state’s economy, the sector lost more than 8,000 jobs in the first year of the pandemic, dropping to a little less than 61,000. Cultural groups continue to struggle to regain their financial footing.

In a statement before the event, Lauderdale and Noack likened the Legislature’s task to federal programs that helped bring the United States out of the economic abyss of the 1930s. “During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration, putting millions of Americans to work. Federal music, theater and writers’ projects signaled to the people that arts and culture are as important to the infrastructure of the country as our roads and post offices,” the pianists said. “The American Dream was not only promise of economic and social justice but of cultural enrichment, making us more resilient, inventive and compassionate.”

Meanwhile, the legislative caucus has been expanded since its formation was announced. The nine original members included coordinator Nosse, Sen. Dick Anderson (R-Lincoln City), Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas), Rep. Maxine Dexter (D-Portland), Rep. David Gomberg (D-Otis), Sen. Bill Hansell (R-Athena), Rep. John Lively (D-Springfield), Rep. Pam Marsh (D-Ashland), and Sen. Deb Patterson (D-Salem). Since then, four more Democratic members of the Legislature have joined: Rep. Dacia Grayber (Tigard), Rep. Annette Hartman (Gladstone), Rep. Lisa Reynolds (Northeast Washington County), andRep. Ricki Ruiz (Gresham).

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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