Finalists selected to lead the Cultural Trust and Arts Commission

The three candidates for executive director of the state's arts agencies speak in Portland

Oregon in the 1911 Brittanica encyclopedia/Wikimedia

Oregon in the 1911 Brittanica encyclopedia/Wikimedia

Last week, the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Cultural Trust invited the public to meet their three executive director finalists in meetings in both Portland and Salem on Monday, and then named them earlier this morning before the first, the Portland meeting at the Oregon Historical Society.

The finalist most familiar to Oregon arts audiences is Greg Netzer, who guided the Wordstock literary arts festival to prominence during his six-year run as executive director. Netzer has worked on both economic development and nonprofit arts issues since moving here in 1994, and most recently has worked at the communications agency AHA, helping big corporations talk about their sustainability and social responsibility stories.

Joyce Bonomini, executive director finalist, Cultural Trust and Arts Commission

Joyce Bonomini, executive director finalist, Cultural Trust and Arts Commission

The first of the two out-of-staters to speak was Joyce Bonomini, a former theater designer who built the design and technical theater department at a Cincinnati arts school, then moved to the Cincinnati Arts Association to help set up an education program, set up a performing arts institute in Florida and work at the Eckerd Theater Company, and these days is a consultant with St. Petersburg College’s Collaborative Lab, the Arts Consulting Group and the City of Clearwater’s Aging Well Center.

Brian Rogers was a practicing artist who served as the deputy executive director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for 16 years and now is a consultant for arts and culture organizations. The issues he faced in Pennsylvania are very similar to ones in Oregon, and the solutions he helped devise and implement—for establishing a cultural data center, for example, and for balancing the grants for large organizations with those from smaller ones—should be considered here, whether he’s the candidate that emerges from the process or not.

I like the idea of public meetings to introduce the finalists for positions such as this one. This one gave the Trust and Arts Commission a chance to see the top candidates in front of an audience, an important skill, though certainly not the ONLY one the winning candidate should possess. And it gives the interested public—in this case maybe 60 people total (I’m terrible at audience estimates)—a chance to look them over and hear them respond to questions.

Brian Rogers

Brian Rogers

It’s almost impossible to avoid the very human tendency to pick a “winner” at an event like this one, even though it’s silly: The number of data points for each candidate is far too small to come to a real conclusion. And actually, I think the decision will be difficult for those getting lots more exposure to the candidates than this. Bonomini’s passion for the arts is almost palpable. Netzer knows the local ground well, and we know how smart and articulate he can be about the arts and economic development and how they feed each other. Rogers has a depth of practical, creative experience on the immediate problems the state’s arts agencies face and a philosophical (and democratic) approach that binds together sometimes competing constituents. So, yes, a difficult decision.

All three of the candidates had reasonable ideas about what the Trust and Commission need to do going forward. They need to be “visible, vocal advocates for arts in the state” (in Rogers words). They need to examine their current and future plans, and do some consensus building around them. They need to listen to their stakeholders. They need sustainable funding mechanisms. Each of these is a difficult and open-ended assignment that requires both commitment to minute details and the ability to seize the propitious moment. Or maybe even the half-propitious moment!

Greg Netzer, executive director finalist, Cultural Trust and Arts Commission

Greg Netzer

I have argued before that the job of running a public agency and acting as the policy point person in the arts is too much for one person. Actually, I think I said it was impossible. The number of bosses in the bureaucracy, and the number of stakeholders in the state is too great to find a reasonable balance. At the same time, the appetite in Salem, both in the Kitzhaber administration and the legislature, for a major reappraisal of the importance of the arts in the state needs to be sharpened before big change can happen. It’s hard to politick for the arts and supervise a staff entrusted with distributing public money and technical services to artists and arts groups.

Although I can get pretty gloomy about this (and then recommend that the governor appoint a Secretary of the Arts), I’m glad that others are not and instead are willing to invest their careers and reputations in making it work.

UPDATE: And the winner was: Brian Rogers. On Wednesday, Rogers was selected for the post.

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