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News & notes: Fertile Ground returns, a museum in peril, Eugene Weekly revives

Portland's festival of new works is back after taking a year off; the Bellevue Arts Museum faces a "dire financial crisis"; the Eugene paper is back in print following an embezzlement.

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A small slice of the action at The Armory on media night in 2019: theater people everywhere, swapping stories and dreaming dreams. Photo courtesy Fertile Ground
A small slice of the action at The Armory on media night in 2019: theater people everywhere, swapping stories and dreaming dreams. Photo courtesy Fertile Ground

After a year’s hiatus, Fertile Ground — the citywide Portland festival of new works mostly but not entirely in theater — is returning. The festival, which features new works at all sorts of stages, from readings to workshops to full productions, will run for 10 days April 12-21.

This year’s festival will feature 63 works (see the lineup here), ranging alphabetically from Bridgetown Conservatory of Musical Theatre’s A Bridge to the Promised Land: 1968 and actor and writer Josie Seid’s The Alchemy of Steam to the PlayWrite writing group’s Write.Voice.Play!, a showcase of student one-acts, and Lakewood Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival. In the middle of the alphabet are such intriguing-sounding projects as veteran playwright Rich Rubins’ Floating Naked with Piranhas (How I Learned To Love Working at Amazon), Rogue Pack’s The Masked Villain of Sellwood, and playwright E.M. Lewis’s latest, Strange Birds.

This year’s festival, the 14th, will be the first actually in theaters with in-person audiences since 2020. The festival went virtual during the steep Covid years of 2021 and ’22, streaming shows. It took off last year to rethink itself after longtime director Nicole Lane moved on. Tamara Carroll, a founding member of Action/Adventure Theatre, is the new festival director. Fertile Ground is sponsored by PATA, the Portland Area Theatre Alliance.

Keeping with tradition, this year’s festival is both broad and very local. As its website notes, “Projects can range from fully staged world premieres, to theatrical workshops and play readings, to ensemble, multidisciplinary and collaboration-driven work, to a variety of dance, comedy, film events and more.

“Unlike a typical fringe festival, Fertile Ground features the new work of our LOCAL artists, performers, and resident theatre companies, ensuring that the artistic and financial benefits of the festival stay in Portland. “

Bellevue Arts Museum in financial trouble

The Bellevue Arts Museum is facing a “dire financial crisis” and has kicked off an emergency campaign to raise $300,000, Margo Vansynghel reports in The Seattle Times. “The money would cover operating expenses — mostly salaries and various other costs like building upkeep and caterers for its upcoming gala,” Vansynghel wrote in a story published Feb. 16. “If the nonprofit doesn’t raise enough money to cover them for the next six weeks, a closure could be in the cards, executive director Kate Casprowiak Scher said.”

On display in the Bellevue Arts Museum exhibition "Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper," through April 26: Kakuko Ishii, "Musubu R," 2012, Washi paper (Mizuhiki) and pigment, Image courtesy of the artist, © Kakuko Ishii.
On display in the Bellevue Arts Museum exhibition “Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper,” through April 26: Kakuko Ishii, “Musubu R,” 2012, Washi paper (Mizuhiki) and pigment, Image courtesy of the artist, © Kakuko Ishii.

The Bellevue museum, founded in the eastside Seattle suburb in 1975, is of interest to Oregon arts followers partly because it emphasizes craft and design, helping to fill a Northwest vacancy since the twin implosions of Portland’s now-defunct Oregon College of Art and Craft, which shuttered in 2019, and Museum of Contemporary Craft, which closed in 2016.

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The Bellevue museum’s troubles are not new — Vansynghel reports that it racked up an $809,000 deficit in 2022 — but they have reached a crisis point. Part of the museum’s financial problems stem from the slowdowns of the Covid years. Staff and board turnover “hasn’t helped,” Vansynghel notes. She also points to the museum’s lack of its own collection, which means that all of its exhibitions must be imported, an expensive process.

The museum’s Save BAM: Keep Bellevue Alive campaign is here.

Eugene Weekly is back in print

Things are looking better in Eugene, where the Eugene Weekly, which laid off its entire staff and stopped printing its weekly editions just before Christmas after discovering its funds had been drained by embezzlement, is back in print: On Feb. 8 it published its first print edition since the shutdown. (Laid-off staffers had kept the online version going in the meantime, volunteering their time and work.)

The Weekly, a Eugene and Lane County staple that among other things has provided crucial arts and cultural coverage to its region, isn’t out of the woods yet, but it’s made remarkable progress, thanks in large part to an outpouring of support from its community. As the paper’s Camilla Mortensen put it, “Within hours of Eugene Weekly posting about the embezzlement, offers to contribute and fundraise poured in. As the paper looked at more than $200,000 in losses and debt, the community looked at its local newspaper and community touchstone, and said, ‘Not so fast.’” 

In the meantime, fundraising continues.

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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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