EDITOR’S NOTE: On July 21 of this year the City of Portland informed the Regional Arts & Culture Council, which had been administering city arts programs and budgets under contract for 28 years, that the city intends to end its sole-service fiscal relationship with RACC in Summer 2024, and move to a competitive bidding process.
On August 16 Oregon ArtsWatch published this opinion piece on the City/RACC breakup by Dr. S. Renee Mitchell, artist, journalist, community activist, and leader of the Soul Restoration Center. Today, we publish two more opinion pieces: The one below by Dan Ryan, Portland City Council’s Commissioner of Culture & Livability; and this piece by Carol Tatch, Executive Director of RACC.
By DAN RYAN
Portland City Commissioner
Portland is celebrated for its dynamic arts and music scene; it’s the heartbeat of our community. These artistic expressions are not only a reflection of our collective identity, values, and aspirations, but also are a significant economic catalyst, especially in rejuvenating downtown Portland.
In January 2023, I took on the role of Arts Liaison for the city, overseeing the City Arts Program, arts service providers, and the arts budget. This position has granted me current insight into our arts ecosystem, its strengths, and its challenges.
The Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) has been part of this artistic landscape for decades. However, in recent years, the City has sought to address a growing need for a more transparent and accountable relationship between the city and RACC, the stewardship of taxpayer dollars, and increasing the number of organizations at the table to support arts and music.
Our city’s commitment to the arts is unwavering. For almost thirty years, we’ve consistently funded RACC, allocating about $7.8 million per year. This investment targets grant distribution, managing the city’s public arts program, and other essential arts services. Yet, a 2018 audit, initiated by the late Commissioner Nick Fish, revealed concerns, notably the city’s unclear arts and culture objectives and the need for RACC’s strategic realignment.
In response, we launched the City Arts Program in 2018 for better RACC oversight. By 2022, we initiated “Our Creative Future,” a comprehensive cultural planning process, engaging various stakeholders to evaluate and strategize Portland’s arts & culture trajectory.
Meanwhile, our collaboration with RACC has faced hurdles. Despite the city contributing nearly 80 percent of RACC’s annual budget, there have been issues of transparency and alignment. RACC’s hesitance to share financial data, align with the city’s arts priorities, and demonstrate clearly how funds are utilized became evident during a city council meeting last December. In a rare moment of alignment between Commissioners Mapps and Hardesty, council rejected RACC’s annual report.
These challenges aren’t new. Commissioner Carmen Rubio last year removed “arts education coordination” from RACC’s responsibilities due to concerns raised by school districts. This year, to emphasize support for our artists and arts organizations, the City reduced RACC’s program management and administration expenses by $400,000 but increased our investment in grants for artists and arts organizations by 4 percent.
Our current contract with RACC, set to expire in June 2024, has clear requirements. We expect RACC to be transparent in their operations, including detailed financial breakdowns and disaggregated demographics data. The contract also stipulates that two city representatives must serve as non-voting members of the RACC board. Despite our repeated requests, we’re still waiting for RACC to provide this level of information and access to these helpful meetings.
Given RACC’s recent track record, I met with their leadership in July, discussing our decision to not renew their sole-source contract. While RACC’s mission aligns with Portland’s values, their fiscal management and administrative practices have raised concerns. We’re now looking towards a new approach, issuing tailored Requests for Proposals to find specialized partners. RACC is encouraged to participate. The RFPs for contracts will focus on transparency, clear outcomes, and efficient administrative costs.
Our vision is to direct a higher percentage of funding to our arts community. As Commissioner of Culture and Livability, I am resolute in my commitment to the arts and music. We aim to foster a supportive environment for our local artists and cultural organizations, recognizing the vitality they bring to Portland.
In essence, Portland is on the verge of an arts and culture renaissance. With the right collaborations and transparency, we can ensure our city remains a sanctuary for artists and expand access to arts. As we move forward, it’s crucial to remember that arts, culture and music are not mere entertainment; they are an economic driver, and they set the tone for the soul of our community.
Portland’s artistic legacy is evident in every mural and melody across the city, a testament to generations of artists and cultural advocates. In an era of tight budgets, the arts might be overlooked, but in Portland, we see them as essential investments.
Our primary goal is to serve our community, ensuring artists and cultural advocates have a supportive ecosystem. I urge the community to remain engaged during this pivotal time for Portland’s arts.
I’m also committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in our arts partnerships, ensuring every artist has an equal platform. Portland should not only be a haven for local talent but also a global arts destination. By hosting international events and collaborations, we can solidify our global arts reputation.
Portland’s heart beats with the rhythm of the arts. Our city, renowned for its cultural vibrancy, doesn’t just celebrate the arts for their aesthetic and soulful value; we recognize their profound economic significance. A recent report by the Oregon Arts Commission paints a vivid picture of this impact in the Greater Portland Area.
The Americans for the Arts’ Arts & Economic Prosperity Study 5 showcased our nonprofit arts and culture sector is nothing short of remarkable, pumping an astounding $330.4 million per year into greater Portland’s economy prior to the pandemic. This included $214.4 million from the organizations themselves and another $116 million from eventgoers. Beyond the numbers, this translates to over 11,500 jobs, a boost in household incomes, and a significant contribution to our local and state coffers. It’s evident: when we champion the arts, we’re not just nurturing our cultural spirit but also fortifying our economic backbone. We are eagerly awaiting an update of this report in October.
Our arts organizations, with their $214.4 million spending in 2015, are more than just cultural epicenters. They’re substantial employers and consumers, supporting jobs across various sectors, from tech to event planning.
In the words of Vincent Van Gogh, “Art is to console those who are broken by life.” In challenging times, let’s harness the healing power of the arts and ensure they remain integral to Portland’s identity.
Looking ahead, we recognize the arts’ transformative power in urban development and community building. By integrating arts into our urban strategies, we can create spaces that resonate with our community. I’m committed to championing public art initiatives, fostering collaborations between the arts and tech sectors, and advocating for increased arts funding.
My commitment to the arts and the broader Portland community is unwavering. With collaboration, creativity, and a shared vision, we can build a brighter future for our city. Let’s come together, celebrate our shared heritage, and ensure the arts remain central to Portland’s identity and prosperity.