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Subashini Ganesan-Forbes joins Oregon Arts Commission

The choreographer, arts advocate, and former Creative Laureate of Portland moves on to the state arts stage.

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Subashini Ganesan-Forbes, new Oregon Arts Commissioner. Photo: Intisar Abioto

Subashini Ganesan-Forbes, Portland’s former Creative Laureate and founder of Portland’s New Expressive Works performance space, is the newest member of the Oregon Art Commission. The state agency announced her appointment, which will run through March 22, 2026, on Friday morning.

The arts commission and its close companion in state government, the Oregon Cultural Trust, help set the state’s arts and cultural priorities and grant funds from state and federal sources to groups and individuals in all sections of the state. The commission’s purpose is to support Oregon arts and artists, and to help the arts act as economic boosters in Oregon communities across the state. Founded in 1967, the arts commission became a branch of Business Oregon, the state’s Business Development Department, in 1993.

Ganesan-Forbes became Portland’s creative laureate in 2018, and her two-year term was extended when the pandemic hit. She continued in the role through June 2021, and was instrumental in securing emergency funding for artists and arts organizations hard-hit by Covid-19 shutdowns.

A choreographer, performer, producer, arts administrator, and curator, she’s emphasized a multicultural approach to the arts, and has collaborated with artists including Mike Barber of Ten Tiny Dances; Michelle Fujii of the taiko troupe Unit Souzou; Pakistani American visual artist Sabina Haque; Indian American choreographer Anita Menon; Pakistani-German choreographer and organizer Amna Mawaz Khan, who works in the Indian classical dance form Bharatnatyam; DJ Anjali; and groups including Third Angle New Music, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the Asian Pacific Network of Oregon, and Portland Center Stage. 

She also sits on the boards of the James F. & Marion L. Miller Foundation and the Portland Parks Foundation, is on the community advisory committee for Portland’s Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, and is an adjunct professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, teaching classes in arts advocacy.

“It is both an honor and a complete joy to serve on the Oregon Arts Commission,” Ganesan-Forbes said in a prepared statement. “This appointment comes at a time when our arts and culture communities across the state are both blossoming with rich vibrance AND concerned about our stability and future. I am particularly excited to bring my deep knowledge in grassroots advocacy to the work that is already at flow through the leaders and staff of the Arts Commission. 

“I believe that the last two years have revealed the gaps, inequities and opportunities in our arts ecosystem,” she added. “It means a lot to me to now be a part of the ongoing, statewide, meaningful discussions about access for rural artists and arts collectives, how individual artists and creatives constantly get shut out of funding opportunities, and what the next chapter of a truly equitable arts ecosystem looks like.” 

Ganesan-Forbes’ appointment fills the position vacated by Commissioner Michael Greer when he moved out of state. Another vacancy, to replace Christopher Acebo, who cycled off the board recently after serving two four-year terms, will be filled soon, arts commission spokesperson Carrie Kikel said.

The nine-member state board also includes visual artist Avantika Bawa, of Portland; Michael Dalton, of Corvallis and Newport; board chair Jenny Green, of Bend; David Harrelson, of Grand Ronde and Dundee; Harlen Springer, of Florence; Matthew Stringer, executive director of The Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario; and immediate past chair Anne Taylor, of La Grande. Dalton’s current term expires on May 10 of this year, and Taylor’s on October 31.

“We are thrilled to have Subashini join us in supporting the arts in Oregon,” board chair Green said in the commission’s statement. “Her energy, creativity and unwavering commitment to equity and access will be invaluable in our planning and service to artists, arts organizations and all Oregonians.”

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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