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 Carol Tatch, Executive Director of RACC, and this piece by Dan Ryan, Portland City Council’s Commissioner of Culture & Livability.
By CAROL TATCH
Executive Director, Regional Arts & Culture Council
In 1995, Portland area leaders came together with the artistic community and consciously created a nonpartisan entity to serve the artistic needs of three counties, Metro and the City. From it, the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) was formed.
For three years as a RACC team member — and now its Executive Director — I have been a part of RACC holding the community close through its funding, including the distribution of over $15 million in federal CARES and ARPA funding (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and American Rescue Plan Act) during the COVID pandemic — support that RACC leveraged, not the city. I strongly believe in RACC’s mission to advocate for artists, creatives, and arts and culture organizations, and to provide the financial support they need to be successful. We offer professional-development workshops and other career-building opportunities to deepen artists’ outreach and impact. Even more, RACC is committed to providing these services through an equitable lens. RACC ensures that the whole region’s arts ecosystem benefits.
Our grantees are not just names on applications; they are our partners in our mission. RACC continues to demonstrate how our local region can successfully engage, support, uplift, highlight, and share arts and culture. RACC has clearly demonstrated it is the solution for clear access to funding, engagement with respect and dignity, and a regional advocate for more funding and support for arts and culture, for the past 28 years.
Under new and strategic BIPOC leadership, RACC continues to meet and exceed the performance measures outlined in our contract with the City of Portland and our regional partners, despite misleading and incorrect statements from the city. With an administrative overhead rate of 12.5% for the city of Portland, RACC is a responsible steward of public dollars. We also are able to subsidize the city of Portland’s funding: We have leveraged $300,000 in additional funding for the City of Portland to benefit Portland-area artists.
When the late Commissioner Nick Fish called for the 2018 audit of the city arts program and RACC, he was concerned at the time that too much of RACC’s money was going to subsidize large arts organizations and not enough artists, especially artists of color. At the time of the audit, Jeff Hawthorne served as RACC’s interim executive director. Now Hawthorne serves as the manager of the City Arts Program and – if Ryan’s plan moves forward — will oversee a large percentage of RACC’s funding, without the regional and community oversight that has historically made RACC’s advocacy so impactful.
Last year, RACC received the most applications for its various grant and public art awards programs ever. And now, our organization’s regional role as a trusted, responsive, and equitable funding source for artists and community arts organizations is under attack.
This decision to return arts funding decision-making back inside a government agency is just a blunt announcement to the Portland metro community: You no longer matter; the city will make the decisions.
We believe this is a huge mistake. But it doesn’t have to happen. Please write Commissioner Dan Ryan and other members of the Portland City Council, telling them what YOU think. Because YOU will lose your voice in deciding arts funding. It’ll be decided by a few people beholden to partisan politics, without your input. It will take Portland back half a century: way before 1995.
Is that what you want?
We invite your questions and ask that you actively demand that the city support RACC in continuing its mission, which deeply honors equity, transparency, and community uplift. Please check out the RACC Advocacy Hub as well as joining with us for our “RACC in Community” conversations coming soon (check our website and social media for updates on where and when). All are invited.