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Paying the piper and the painter

ArtsWatch Weekly: a rescue fund for artists thrown out of work, arts move online, Oregon's animation magic.


AMONG MANY OTHER SUDDEN SHIFTS IN THE SOCIAL LANDSCAPE as we learn to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the very real and urgent question rises: How will our artists eat and pay the rent when there’s no work to do? Like the arts organizations that normally employ them, many artists survive on a thin margin, counting on the next sale or the next show and the show after that to keep paddling abovewater financially. Most artists are freelance workers, moving from gig to gig, relying on a steady stream of work to keep them going. And when the museums and galleries and theaters and concert halls shut their doors, the jobs dry up – and so do the paychecks.

The artists’ dilemma: all dressed up with nowhere to go – and how to pay the bills? Frans Hals, Jester Playing a Lute, ca. 1623-1624, oil on canvas, 27.5 x 24.4 inches, Louvre Museum, Paris.

Two of Oregon’s leading cultural players, Portland Creative Laureate Subashini Ganesan and Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford, have helped launch PDXARTISTRELIEF.COM, the Portland Area Artist Emergency Relief Fund, to help provide just that – emergency relief to artists in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties facing financial crises because of coronavirus shutdowns. If this is you, click on the link above for information on how to qualify and how to apply. If this isn’t you, but you’d like to contribute to the fund, click the link, too. As of Wednesday evening the fund, seeded by a lead gift from arts philanthropist Ronni Lacroute (who is also a major contributor to Oregon ArtsWatch), had raised $63,000 and was aiming for more, Ganesan said: “The need is quite significant. $150,000 would be a good start but perhaps $300,000 – $350,000 would feel better. We don’t know how long this will last. We also don’t know how this impacts small/medium/large arts organizations and what that will mean for independent or freelance artists.” Many co-sponsors, listed on the link, have signed on to help. 


MEANWHILE, RACC – the Regional Arts & Culture Council, covering the tri-county Portland metropolitan area – is trying to figure out exactly what the health crisis means to cultural organizations, including how it seems to be affecting their financial stability. To help assess the situation so it can decide what actions to take, it’s asking cultural groups to fill in a COVID-19 survey and send it in. If this is you, you can find the survey form here. No matter what your favorite arts organization is, it’s probably in financial trouble right now. If you’re able to, this is a good time to send off a check.


ONLINE BEYOND ZEBRA: As the crisis builds, many cultural groups are shifting to live streaming and other online delivery systems to get their concerts, visual art, and other cultural messages out to people. On Thursday afternoon the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Cultural Trust sent out a joint release – Oregon arts and culture go online! – to help you track the possibilities. The list is long and growing, and it’s also statewide, from online gallery tours of the Pendleton Center for the Arts and Grants Pass Museum of Art and Bend’s High Desert Museum to Cappella Romana’s recent live-streamed performance viewed by more than 80,000 people worldwide, and Portland Baroque Orchestra’s announcement today of a temporary mission change: “For the duration of public gathering restrictions, PBO will anchor a city-wide livestreaming operation, offering single-camera livestreaming and outreach support to other Portland-area arts organizations. For information about livestreaming, click HERE.” Check out both links and see what you can see and hear from home. It’s a brave new world out there.



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OREGON ARTSWATCH ALSO  ASKS FOR YOUR HELP during the coronavirus crisis. A contribution goes a long way. Like the cultural groups we cover, we’re a nonprofit organization – one of the pioneers of nonprofit journalism, mostly funded by our readers, grants, sponsorships, and individual donations. Our overhead is very low – everything we raise from donations goes to our writers, editors, and photographers to produce stories – and many of our contributors are themselves working artists: What we pay them is part of the freelance income that helps them keep producing their art. Many of you are already ArtsWatch financial supporters. Thanks for that. If you can, this is a good time to bump up your contribution, or contribute for the first time. We’re here for you, and the artists, and the art. Here’s how:

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Still from Joanna Priestley’s North of Blue (2018). The Oregon animator calls it a completely abstract film, about line and color and shape.

JOANNA PRIESTLEY: DISCOVERING WHERE THE MAGIC IS. As things shut down, there’s always reading, and ArtsWatch continues to offer a good variety of it. Our columnist Lori Tobias, for instance, conducted a warm and informative interview with the terrific Oregon animator Joanna Priestley, one of the people who’ve helped make metro Portland one of the world’s animation capitals. “Animation is this really fascinating combination of art and science,” Priestley tells Tobias. “You have to understand both. If you look at sports, for example, you see loads of interesting movement. … As you study that motion you can begin to understand how to break it down into individual drawings — or sculpture, if you are doing stop-motion animation.”

FERTILE GROUND 4: THE ONE-ACT ITCH. Jae Carlsson’s final of four looks back on Portland’s recent Fertile Ground festival of new works considers the pitfalls and pleasures of one-act plays (including one of the festival’s best, Eve Johnstone and Rutabaga Story Co.’s Itch) and fearlessly dives down other theatrical rabbit holes.

Marlon Mullen, Untitled, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 36 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

JUDGING BY THE COVER. Lindsay Costello reviews Marlon Mullen’s solo show at Adams and Ollman gallery of vibrant paintings “inspired by advertisements, as well as magazine and book covers running the gamut from Artforum and Art in America to knitting and cooking publications.” Mullen, who is autistic and primarily nonverbal, has built a national following for his work, which “translate(s) the written language and imagery of his references into abstracted forms, creating an inspiring new layer of aesthetic function.”

Susan Kunitsky’s Call Me (oil, 8 by 10 inches), at The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville, is an apt image for our social-distancing times.

YAMHILL COUNTY: ASSUME IT’S CANCELED. Ring-ring! Like pretty much everywhere else, our columnist David Bates writes, things have shut down in the heart of Oregon wine country. That means a lot of cultural exhibits and events. Still, there are possibilities. Reading, for instance: As of deadline, McMinnville’s Third Avenue Books was offering free deliveries to porches in the McMinnville ZIP code. Stock up while the stocking’s good. And keep checking back: As Bates writes, “Here at the Yamhill County Oregon ArtsWatch desk, I continue to work, talking to local artists and cultural leaders even as the ground shifts beneath our feet and we settle in for who knows how long of this new normal.”

Trombone, 2011. Photo by K.B. Dixon

EINE KLEINE STRASSEMUSIK. In any ordinary year, among the many attractions of Portland as spring begins is the proliferation of street musicians, providing a rhythm and beat to the downtown streets. This, of course, is no ordinary year, and in his photo essay K.B. Dixon has drawn on his extensive files of city street scenes to offer a visual ode to the independent artists who in recent years have helped the city sing.


All Classical Radio James Depreist

CORONA CORONA, WHERE YOU BEEN SO LONG? As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold on Oregon and the United States and much of the rest of the world we tracked some of the strange and startling changes that swiftly overtook us and changed our everyday realities: the cancellations, isolations, hesitantly emerging innovations. “We’ve entered unfamiliar and uncertain territory. Where will this go? How long will it last? How serious will it be? How will it end?… How will artists and cultural organizations adapt?” This is a continuing, ever-shifting story, and ArtsWatch will continue to cover it.

COVID-19: ART & HISTORY MUSEUMS, LIBRARIES SHUT DOWN. Our report on an avalanche of closures, including major museums and all locations of the Multnomah County Library System. Again, a rapidly shifting story. Since this was published, for instance, the iconic Powell’s Books – one of the gathering spots for Portlanders, come rain or come shine – has closed all of its locations

Friderike Heuer, Reminiscence, 2020, montage, employing elements from Dutch landscape painting and works by German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich and Finnish photographer Elina Brotherus.

POSTCARDS FROM NINEVAH. Art exhibitions across Oregon, the nation, and indeed, the world have been shut down or made less accessible: Museums have closed their doors and many Portland galleries, for instance, have switched to an appointment-only basis. Increasingly, artists and galleries are making those shows available virtually, on the Internet. That includes Oregon artist Friderike Heuer, a frequent ArtsWatch contributor, whose show of montages is at the Newport Visual Arts Center on the coast. She’s published the images, along with an illuminating essay on how and why she created them, on her excellent artist’s page YDP – Your Daily Picture, which regularly discusses art, environment, and social and political issues.


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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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