NEWS & NOTES

NEA: $1.2 million in Oregon grants

The National Endowment for the Arts delivers 17 grants in Oregon as part of an $80 million round of awards nationally

The National Endowment for the Arts today announced its latest round of grants, more than $80 million across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. jurisdictions. Oregon’s share is $1,219,200 among 17 groups and agencies – more than half to the Oregon Arts Commission, which then makes further grants throughout the state. Funding ranges from hiring a folklorist at the High Desert Museum in Bend to developing a new tribal arts and culture plan in Coos Bay to creating a new work at Eugene Ballet.

The complete Oregon list:

High Desert Museum, Bend:

$45,000 to support a folklorist position at the High Desert Museum.

Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, Coos Bay:

$50,000 to support the development of an arts and culture master plan to establish guidelines for public art and architecture that will celebrate sites of historical significance in Coos Bay, Oregon.

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Former president Denise Mullen responds to the loss of Oregon College of Art and Craft

The small art college faced a difficult financial environment and failed to pursue a possible path to solvency

By DENISE MULLEN

Editor’s note: Denise Mullen has written a public response to the decision by the board of directors of the Oregon College of Art and Craft to fold the college and sell the campus to Catlin Gabel School. Mullen served as president of the college from 2010 until September 10, 2018. Her response discusses the difficult fiscal environment that all small colleges face, especially arts colleges, and her efforts to develop a path toward financial success while she was president, efforts that  were not taken up by the board of directors.

The almost unbearable sadness that I personally feel at the loss of Oregon College of Art and Craft begins with the current students, alums, faculty, staff and Board members and extends to those through the years of this remarkable institution that have helped shape what OCAC has become today. The loss is greater than that of a loved one because of the numbers of people affected.

Denise Mullen

Beyond the OCAC campus, there have been public outcries, calls and serious offers to save the college. Our Portland community feels this loss as a blow to our collective cultural identity, and rightly so, but you might not be aware of the larger loss to higher education that the OCAC closing—as well as the merging and closing of so many other small private colleges—is having on higher education across the country. This reflection on, and lamentation for, OCAC will attempt to put the specifics of OCAC in the context of the larger crisis in higher education.

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The OCAC faculty members have created a learning environment that is unique—yes, unique—in college art education today. Combining the haptic (the neurological benefits of the handmade) with materials knowledge to carry out conceptual and expressive ideas is not the norm in current art instruction. Further, the faculty has been unflinchingly devoted to teaching the OCAC students—not a characteristic of all faculties. The bold students who have chosen OCAC have made exponential use of the faculty’s time obtaining their undergraduate and graduate degrees, not to mention those enrolled over the years in the youth and adult programming. After all, the origin of OCAC was an informal group of professional crafts people, led by Julia Hoffman, during the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. OCAC is the history of Portland, forming a through-line from the native populations to the lumber families to today’s focus on the craft of the hand-made. It is Oregon personified. And it’s going the way of the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Marylhurst University’s Art Gym (and Marylhurst itself), even the Art Institute (the one in Portland among others)—all lost to our community. Why?

A part of the answer comes from the change sweeping higher education today in the U.S., specifically how the many small, private, specially-focused colleges that play a critical role in the education of our populace have been affected. There have been numerous articles on this topic recently. Having been in visual arts higher education for more than 40 years in public and private, multi-purpose and art-specific colleges in the U.S. and Canada, and as the immediate past-President of the Oregon College of Art and Craft, I speak from direct experience.

We all know we are in a period of declining college enrollments due to a smaller national demographic of college-age students and an increasing erosion of confidence in the value of a college degree. Return on investment, or ROI, is regularly questioned in the media given the debt students must often assume to complete their degrees. With private colleges averaging $30,000-$50,000 per year in tuition (OCAC is on the low end with undergrad tuition in the low $30s and grad tuition in the high $30s) access to many private institutions is simply not financially possible for a large component of college-age students in the middle class, much less those families and students with lower incomes, without loans. Many of these families could not save for college and many who did, had their funds diverted after the 2008 financial downturn. With the rise of the digital world and the subsequent changes in accessing information, a costly educational experience is increasingly questioned as the gateway to successful careers, though the data show otherwise. In addition, the recent admissions bribery scandals have further demoralized those striving to enter honestly. Through the fog of controversy, a college education is still the proven requisite for a lifetime of success whether in a career or simply as a knowledgeable person.

The Oregon College of Art and Craft campus/Photo by Bruce Forster

As with all aspects of the educational system, the current trends are more pronounced in our smaller colleges (under 500 students) making these institutions, like OCAC, the “canaries in the coal mine.” During the past five years, we’ve seen seven of OCAC’s sister, free-standing art colleges with modest endowments forced into a decision to close or merge because, among other factors, they were not able to remain financially viable with only two revenue streams—tuition and philanthropy. The Memphis College of Art closed; The Corcoran College of Art + Design and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC merged with George Washington University and the National Gallery respectively; the Lyme Academy in Lyme, Connecticut, merged with the University of New Haven (this merger has broken down after several years, and the Lyme Board is looking for other options); the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston merged with Tufts University; New Hampshire College of Art is preparing to merge. OCAC and PNCA once again investigated merging, followed by merger talks between OCAC and PSU.

In each successful merger, the art colleges desired to remain distinct entities within the larger institution and, over time, did not. According to a number of experts in the field, including Portland’s William Deresiewicz (http://www.billderesiewicz.com/), art colleges are an excellent source of creative thinking and innovative problem solving. These characteristics of the creative process lead to independent thought and innovation and are applicable to any career a graduate might pursue. When small private art colleges close or merge and lose their distinctive educational approaches, an important aspect of higher education is diminished: independent thinking through the creative process.

It’s interesting that in the above list of merged or closed art colleges, a new building factored in the demise of three of them. As with so many small colleges that either purchased or built a new building, the aftermath of that initiative, particularly post-2008, was often not fully understood nor thought out. Prior to the building of the architect-designed Jean Vollum Drawing, Painting and Photography Building completed in 2010, OCAC consistently ran modest operating deficits that were covered by private donations. OCAC’s operating deficits post-building (before depreciation) more than doubled annually. The college leadership set about to meet the challenge, with the help of the new building, to raise the profile of the college, extoll the advantages of the OCAC educational experience, and plan the financial strategy to nourish them. Graduate programs, approved for the college by the regional and national accrediting agencies in 2012 (retroactive to 2010), provided an influx of enrollment on the graduate level. But rather than increase revenue, grad enrollment countered a decline in undergrad enrollment due to the demographic shift.

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On the fundraising side, the college regularly raised more than $1 million annually (on the high end for freestanding art colleges of comparable size). And though the annual gala brought in increasing revenues (and record revenue in 2018) a well-planned Major Gifts Campaign, vetted through a feasibility study, failed to launch in 2018 in a landscape of multiple regional capital campaigns. For context, Oregon has one of the highest percentages of non-profits per capita and a small, yet enthusiastic, philanthropic community to support them. Further, former regional and national foundation funders changed their focus areas from higher education and the arts to social and cultural initiatives after the 2016 elections.

At issue is not just art colleges. Looking at other categories of small colleges, Sweet Briar College, a woman’s college in Virginia, and Bennett College, a black woman’s college in North Carolina, mustered one-time fundraising campaigns when faced with closing. Sweet Briar and Bennett have survived for the moment thanks to their “extreme” fundraising initiatives. Sweet Briar raised $21 million (primarily from the efforts of alums) and Bennett, $5 million (led by a gift from a well-known philanthropist) to address their immediate financial challenges. Now they must consistently maintain their non-tuition revenue generation, beyond the period of crisis—a hard task indeed. Most recently Hampshire College has joined the ranks of small private colleges at risk with its Board moving to close the institution.

In 2014, facing these trends and realizing that the dual revenue streams of tuition and philanthropy were not sufficient long-term to support the OCAC model of mentor- and materials-based education—an excellent educational model and a challenging financial model—the OCAC Board and administration adopted a multi-pronged strategic plan which included pursuing a third revenue stream. Larger deficits were temporarily approved to fund the strategic plan and its components: launching a major gifts campaign, intensifying student recruitment, and developing a third revenue stream. During this time, senior staff voluntarily donated 10% to 20% of their salaries to the college and faculty patiently waited for salary increases.

The third revenue stream focused on the one asset the college had: land. A defining characteristic of OCAC is its bucolic campus positioned on the western edge of Portland. In that same year, the college partnered with the PSU Masters of Real Estate Development program to undertake an analysis of the four-plus underused acres that wrap the perimeter of the campus. The goal was innovative: a mission-related and institution-enhancing development. The 2015 PSU MRED report developed into a 2018 Request for Qualifications (RFQ, the desired form for the local community) requesting responses from local, national, for-profit and non-profit developers to partner in creating multi-generational, market rate and low-cost artists’ housing built around the college campus. Housing was to include student housing, artist live-work space (addressing the well-publicized loss of artists’ studio space in the region), community “maker spaces” and mission-related retail (again addressing the need for affordable rents for art-related businesses) on the active Southwest Barnes Road/Leahy Road traffic corner. The strategic location of OCAC between Portland and Beaverton was seen as a connector of the two cities.

After focused research and cultivation of developers, housing and community experts, city officials in both Portland and Beaverton, the RFQ was set to release August 2018. The expectation was to generate sufficient revenue to cover budget deficits (at pre-strategic initiative levels), keep the college in the black, and retain college ownership of the property as an asset.

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An added challenge for small educational institutions and non-profit organizations is that they are often characterized by “one-person offices,” an attribute shared by many non-profits in Portland. They are thin-staffed and offer modest salaries rendering these positions less desirable to the work force and subject to high turnover in an age of roving millennials and high demand for expertise from the for-profit world. This phenomenon has been characterized as providing middle level support when high level support is needed to carry out innovative initiatives. (Note: a local performing arts professional has suggested pooling staff among multiple non-profits, an idea whose time has come and echoes the trend in shared office space.)

The real estate plan, while unproven, could have assured OCAC’s survival, intact, for the future. What was needed was a longer financial runway provided by the campaign and a collective commitment to a new way of thinking and doing business beyond tuition and philanthropy as the only sources of revenue. With the completion of the RFQ’s path forward, I stepped away from OCAC for personal family reasons to spend time with my dad who passed away three weeks later.

In a perfect storm of events, the entering 2018 class was below target in numbers though above target in quality. The accompanying major gifts campaign failed to attract a lead donor from among our philanthropic community, and the Board opted to pursue merging as a safer solution than the real estate plan. After two failed merger attempts, the college has announced it will close and sell the land to fund a teach out to allow students to graduate this year or find suitable institutions to which all other students may transfer. It is the death knell for the 112-year old cultural icon and its unique and proven educational model that combines the haptic with the conceptual.

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What can we glean from the OCAC example, and those of the other institutions enumerated above? Can we continue to let valuable educational and cultural institutions fail locally as they try to solve endemic national issues within higher education, or can we find ways to support their efforts in the uncharted waters of new directions? Relying on local, enthusiastic Board leadership and over-stressed segments of our philanthropic communities to keep these small, innovative educational institutions in business while they serve students from across the country and beyond doesn’t seem a good formula for success.

Of course, you could say “isn’t this just a natural evolution” of higher education to have these vulnerable institutions close? In response, all of the above-mentioned colleges make strong cases for their ability to educate students who would not have excelled at other institutions and who have gone on to make major contributions to their fields after graduation. It is also important to point out that, as with OCAC, many of these institutions are educating students with significant financial need. Over 90% of OCAC students required financial assistance. In the extreme, if these small private colleges continue to go under, the gap between those who can afford an education and those who can’t will widen and further exacerbate the divide between an affluent, educated class and a poorer, less-educated class. Recent studies have shown that social mobility in the U.S., a long-standing hallmark of our country, has dropped substantially in recent years. The collective loss of these colleges that had functioned as social and economic equalizers will increase the barrier to social mobility.

To lose these institutions, including OCAC, is to lose a mode of education that helps ensure more members of our society are educated in ways that move them and their communities, and yes, the nation and the world, forward. More than ever we need our graduates to be innovative, creative, informed thinkers to help us navigate the rapidly changing world around us. Shouldn’t we also support our institutions in innovating and iterating to find inventive solutions to secure their existence? Many have argued that the prevailing educational model of larger, enrollment-driven institutions, both public and private, and even the well-known, endowment-funded private institutions, tends toward producing generations of followers and not leaders. Given that, how can we tolerate losing these small, specially-focused educational models that are proven to be successful in educating productive, independent thinkers, many from marginalized communities who would not thrive in a mainstream learning environment?

The OCAC model, where the question of ‘what’s best for the students’ has always been the litmus test in decision-making, is an atmosphere that does not coddle students but rather teaches self-reliance and personal responsibility. Through the intense development of creative skill sets, generations of students have been challenged to find new ways of solving difficult problems. The shared experience has fostered a sense of belonging to a community since its founding by Julia Hoffman in 1907. To see the larger Oregon community—OCAC students, alums and fans, arts and community leaders, former and current Board members—passionately rally to support OCAC and keep the doors open to a valuable educational and meaningful cultural institution has been heartening. To have been successful would have been a step in solving the nation’s higher education problem, a positive commitment to sustaining our Oregon cultural ecology, an active demonstration of Portland’s commitment to organizational innovation and a commitment to the students of OCAC. To see the doors close on this chapter of the Oregon College of Art and Craft is truly sad for our local community and adds one more statistic to the looming national higher education crisis we face.

Catlin Gabel School, the new owner, will no doubt make positive use of the property and its facilities for its students and for the community at large. It’s even possible that their stewardship will contribute in some ways to solving the higher education crisis. Who knows, possibly one of the ideas we contemplated at OCAC, the incorporation of high school students into collaborative, project-based programs with undergraduate and graduate students, or similarly inventive ideas, will be developed. OCAC alums would be an excellent source to engage in this process of vetting ideas.

The hope is that the attributes of the OCAC educational experience will live on in new forms through conscious appropriation and incorporation into other colleges and organizations. OCAC and its students deserve no less.

Denise Mullen
Past-President, Oregon College of Art and Craft

It’s over. OCAC is sold.

Catlin Gabel School has bought the Oregon College of Art and Craft campus, and the venerable craft college will cease to exist in May

Oregon College of Art and Craft is history – or will be at the end of May. The beleaguered craft school’s board of directors announced on Monday in a notification to the school community that it has completed its sale agreement to the nearby Catlin Gabel School, a private pre-K through high school institution. OCAC will continue to operate until what has turned out to be its final class of about 140 students graduates in May. Lower-level students will have to transfer elsewhere.

OCAC’s demise is the second major blow to the state’s craft scene in three years. It follows the death of the Museum of Contemporary Craft in February 2016, and even though Oregon has long held a significant position in the American craft movement, it leaves the state’s craft community with no major institutional representation.

Outside the kiln at Oregon College of Art and Craft/Photo courtesy of OCAC

The sale to Catlin Gabel, which emerged early in the year as the site’s main suitor, was expected. OCAC had explored merging with the Pacific Northwest College of Art or Portland State University, but both schools declined, and the OCAC board decided not to pursue some other suggested proposals to save the college at least in some form.

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Breaking: Tuski leaves PNCA

Donald Tuski, president of Pacific Northwest College of Art since 2016, will take a similar position in Detroit

Don Tuski, president of Pacific Northwest College of Art, has quit to become president of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. His announcement Thursday morning took PNCA faculty, staff, and students by surprise. Tuski had come to Portland in 2016from the Maine College of Art.

Donald Tuski: leaving for Detroit. Photo courtesy PNCA

Watch for more news and analysis as the story develops.

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Text of the PNCA press release:

PNCA President Donald Tuski Headed Home to Michigan July 1, Accepts Position as President of Detroit’s College for Creative Studies

The Board of Governors has begun the transition planning effort to identify an interim president, and ultimately a new president

PORTLAND, Ore. — Don Tuski, PhD, president of Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), announced today that he has accepted a new position as president of the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit. Tuski’s decision will take him home to Michigan, where he was born and raised, and where his two brothers and his sister live. It will also bring him closer to his children, who live in New York and Texas.

“This was a really difficult decision for me to make given the love I have for PNCA’s students, staff, faculty, donors and supporters of the college, and Portland’s art community,” says Tuski. “Over the past three years, I have been fortunate to call Portland and the college my home, and I will miss it greatly. When I was approached by CCS through their recruitment agency, it was clear to me and my family that this was an opportunity I had to explore, given the chance to return home and help support art and design education in Detroit.”

Tuski has led PNCA since 2016 and previously served as president of Maine College of Art. Prior to that, he spent 25 years in various roles at Olivet College, a private liberal arts college in Olivet, Michigan (and Tuski’s alma mater), where he served for nine years as president (2001–2010).

“Don has been integral to PNCA’s success over the past few years, helping grow the college’s enrollment, increase its program offerings, support arts education in the area, and solidify PNCA as a cornerstone of Portland’s higher education art and design community,” said PNCA Board Chair Scott Musch. “Our board is thankful for Don’s work and dedication that has helped PNCA thrive. We wish Don all the success and a bright future as he starts this next chapter.”

Musch, who was formerly serving in the Board’s vice chair role and has a long-established professional business career, was appointed to the board chair position earlier this spring.

PNCA’s Board of Governors Executive Committee has launched the planning process to find an interim president to lead the school through this transition. The overall transition planning process for the new president will follow the school’s shared governance model to include input from students, staff and faculty, in addition to the Board of Governors.

“This is the nature of higher education,” says Musch. “We are not alone in experiencing a change in presidents. When I look around Oregon, I appreciate that we are in good company with Reed College, Lewis & Clark, Linfield, Concordia, PSU, and Oregon State University. They all have either recently or are in the midst of going through a similar process.”

During Tuski’s time at PNCA, his work with the Board of Governors under its shared governance model has been fruitful: enrollment has grown by nearly 100 students; faculty, staff and students collaborated to develop an ambitious strategic plan; the school welcomed the largest first-year class in its 110-year history last fall at nearly an 18 percent increase over two years; and recruitment efforts were expanded to reach 600 high schools, both in Oregon and nationally.

“While this news is hard, we understand this is what’s best for Don as he looks forward to the next chapter of his career,” said Kate Copeland, Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs. “Don’s impact is long-lasting with a positive growth trajectory and a deeply committed group of faculty and staff. While we will miss Don deeply, PNCA is poised for an exciting new chapter thanks to his leadership and legacy.”

PNCA continues its commitment to higher education in art and design in Portland, and under new board leadership has taken an active approach to ensuring the city’s higher education art and design community continues to thrive. The college recently welcomed the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program from Marylhurst, developed a teach-out program for former students of the Oregon College of Art and Craft, and has added new programs emphasizing design and technology. Tuski, along with his PNCA Management Team, also made operational improvements to achieve significant cost savings.

Tuski will succeed Richard L. Rogers, who is retiring from CCS after 25 years. Tuski’s appointment at CCS becomes effective on July 1, 2019.

 

Theater news: Artists Rep prepares for another leap

Artists Rep has big plans for keeping its theater space in downtown Portland in downtown Portland—a two-theater complex with room for its ArtsHub partners.

Artists Repertory Theatre hired J.S. May to be its executive director less than six months ago, and he and his board are already about to make a big move—a $10 million-plus capital campaign that will redesign and renovate its building on Southwest Morrison Street.

Just looking at the recent financial history of the company, that qualifies as “jaw-dropping.” Since November 2017, the company has: 1) incurred a $309,000 lien from the IRS on unpaid payroll taxes, 2) parted ways with previous executive director Sarah Horton, 3) announced the sale of half its property at 1515 SW Morrison St. to a Texas-based real estate company, which will develop it into a 22-story residential tower (the sale closes on June 1, May says), 4) received an anonymous donation worth $7.1 million, and 5) notched another $500,000 donation that it needed to help shore up the half of the property the company will retain, a requirement of the sale.

The building concept by Lever Architecture for the proposed renovation of Artists Repertory Theatre/Courtesy Artists Repertory Theatre

The influx of money resolved the IRS problem, paid off the mortgage on the building, and covered some substantial bills and debts the company had accrued. Did it also tap out the company’s likeliest donors for the capital campaign? May seemed pretty confident about raising the money Artists Rep needs last week when we went over the company’s plans, primarily because of the value proposition: For $10-11 million Artists Rep will be able to build a theater complex worth more than $30-35 million, May said, if you had to buy the land, too. The proceeds of the sale of the half-block has already jump-started the process.

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Building Mozart’s garden

PSU Opera's designers and artisans create a world onstage for the comic "La Finta Giardiniera." Joe Cantrell tells the tale in photographs.

Photographs by JOE CANTRELL

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 18 years old when his opera La Finta Giardiniera (The Pretend, or Fake, Gardener) debuted at the Salvatortheater in Munich in 1775. When it opens Friday evening at Lincoln Performance Hall in Portland it’ll feature a cast almost as young, made up of singers in the elite Portland State University Opera program. Under the artistic leadership of onetime New York City Opera star Christine Meadows, PSU Opera has become known for its high-quality, relatively low-cost, professionally designed productions.

The latter is definitely true in the case of La Finta Giardiniera, which is double-cast in seven major roles (“the students have grown incredibly through the experience of preparing Finta,” Meadows says) and will have four performances, April 19, 20, 26, and 28. Its design team is stellar: set by Carey Wong, lighting by Peter West, lavish period costumes by Hadley Yoder, wigs and hair (a major task for this period comic opera) by Jessica Carr and Randy Graff respectively, props by Sumi Wu.

Maeve Stier as the servant Serpetta, surrounded by painterly foliage.

Wong’s ravishing set is dominated in many scenes by a landscape painted on its walls and inspired by Wooded Landscape with a Peasant Resting, a bucolic painting by Mozart’s near-contemporary Thomas Gainsborough, perhaps best-known for his portrait The Blue Boy. Other scenes take place in a cave, providing a sharp contrast in mood between bright and colorful and dark and forboding.

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An ocean of musical opportunities

The Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival supports music in public schools -- and students don't have to sell 5,000 candy bars to take part

More than 100 students and their teachers will arrive in Newport next week for four days of workshops and performances, a visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium – and of course, ample time on the beach. They’ll stay in oceanfront hotels and dine on local cuisine. And it won’t cost them a dime – not even one raised through the usual fundraising sale of doughnuts or gift wrap.

It’s all part of the Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival, a program designed to support music in public schools, with priority admission given to those from underserved communities.

Students from six Oregon high school orchestras will participate in the third annual Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival, April 25-28 in Newport.

Students from five Oregon high school orchestras will participate in the third annual Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival, April 25-28 in Newport.

The idea for the festival – now in its third year – came from a handful of locals, including the late David Ogden Stiers, who were concerned about the loss of music programs in public schools, said Michael Dalton, chairman of the festival board of directors, retired Oregon State University professor, and a member of the Oregon Arts Commission.

“We were looking for some way we could help support music programs in our schools,” Dalton said. He noted that without school programs, parents who have the means will nevertheless provide private instruction. But for those without funds, some students “have no other opportunities. We have created this festival to meet that need. We don’t want it to be an obstacle, or for the school to have to sell 5,000 candy bars to be able to do something. It’s the heart of what we do.”

Schools pay only the cost of transportation to and from Newport. The festival pays for lodging and the professional conductors who lead the workshops. Local boosters provide food for the students and Local Ocean restaurant hosts the Conductor’s Dinner for conductors, teachers, and board members. The festival also partners with the aquarium, which provides free admission to students, who in exchange share their talent in trios and quartets by the entrance.

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