MYS Oregon to Iberia

Opinion: RACC leader on why a regional arts approach is best for the community to thrive

The city's plan to go its own way on arts funding and policy is "a huge mistake" that doesn't have to happen, the Regional Arts & Culture Council's Carol Tatch writes.

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Carol Tatch (second from left), Executive Director of the Regional Arts and Culture Council, with (from left) Javon Johnson, Ted Lange, Regina Taylor, and Phillip Bernard Smith.. RACC hosted these artists during the recent Pacific Northwest Multi Cultural Readers Series and Film Festival. Photo: Meech Boakye

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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

Sponsor

WESTAF Shoebox Arts


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.

Literary Arts, which among its many programs presents the annual Portland Book Festival (this year’s will be November 4), is one of many tri-county cultural organizations that receive funding from RACC. Photo from 2021 festival courtesy Literary Arts.

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.

Sponsor

WESTAF Shoebox Arts

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.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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6 Responses

  1. Can you address the accusations in Dan Ryans opinion piece regarding transparency, lack of cooperation regarding board seats and incomplete or absent reporting?

  2. I used to be on RACC juries and worked with RACC on public art projects. I am dismayed by how staff heavy this organization is and how a lot of these dollars should be directed to the school art programs as they were advertised. It seems the nonsensical treatment of historic statues has been RACCs undoing and maybe it’s time for a total reset. The Elk is doing RACC in it seems.

  3. A few years back, at the annual State of the Arts report delivered at City Hall (the most recent of which was “rejected” by the City), RACC showed a slide of its team. 35 faces on the screen. 35! While nearly every arts organization and artist operates under scarcity and funding terror, there was RACC, bloated and gloating.

  4. RACC’s staff is bloated by any benchmark. For comparison, San Francisco’s Grants for the Arts program employs only 6 staff, spends only 6% on overhead, and grants $17 Million annually. Compare that to 35 RACC staff in order to grant only $6 Million in Arts Tax funding. And the Grant Application is exactly the same because RACC uses the Cultural Data common grant application. The quality of arts in San Francisco is also much better. Portland should get out of backfilling school districts arts programs because arts funding is already protected by the state. The best way to fund arts is with hotel and lottery taxes.

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