Arts for All

Accessible Arts 1: restrictions may apply

Despite good intentions, affordability and disability still pose obstacles to enjoying Oregon arts


The system finally caught up with us, right when we were getting comfortable. “Sorry, no seats in that section,” the helpful fellow at Portland’s Newmark Theatre box office told me. The moment we had finally gotten over our anxiety over the uncertainties built into securing affordable tickets in the disabled seating area, we had just wasted a trip.

We had taken the long journey into town on bus and MAX, and had arrived an hour early. That schedule had worked nicely just the week before when we had shown up seeking opera tickets on a Saturday night. Lulled by our earlier success, I had neglected the precaution of calling Portland Opera just to make sure that seats were still available for this performance. They were available for a popular Rossini opera on Saturday: how on earth could they be sold out for a comparative rarity (Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice) on a Thursday?

But there it was: no seats to be had in the wheelchair section, not for ready money. No Gluck for you!

A scene from Portland Opera’s production of Gluck’s ‘Orfeo ed Euridice.’; Photo: Cory Weaver/ Portland Opera.

During the last seven years, my partner Konnie and I had been slowly getting used to the ins and outs of the wonderful Arts for All program that allows those of us with an Oregon Trail Card, that handy replacement for the old awkward food stamps, to flash said card and purchase tickets to fine arts events for the very good price of $5 a ticket. But of course, as ads for almost anything tend to point out in the fine print, “Some rules and restrictions may apply.” And when you complicate the task of working past the restrictions each arts organization imposes on poor folks who want an affordable crack at what they offer, and then add the equally daunting challenges of wheelchair seating, your degree of difficulty certainly rises.

But we had learned not to be discouraged by the hurdles, and had been slowly adding one more organization or one more venue to the list of those we had successfully tackled. The process had its ups and downs, but never before with a letdown quite so sharp. As we’ll see, it’s since been fixed, but I’m sharing the story, and this new ArtsWatch series on accessible arts, in hopes that knowing some of the pitfalls will let others steer a somewhat smoother path, and that these issues are solvable.

Over the next few weeks here on Oregon ArtsWatch, I’ll provide a guide to making the arts accessible in an increasingly unaffordable city. This series covers three issues: this one on the Arts for All program, then a more detailed look at the specific challenges faced by those seeking seats reserved for people with disabilities. The third and final installment considers the siren song of a torrent of free music, available free in the home from our public library, a serious temptation when the process of taking in a live show starts to feel like its too much trouble, and a wonderful supplement when you want to prepare for an upcoming event. As our culture erodes around us in visible and disheartening ways, few battles are as well worth fighting as that to make great art truly accessible to all.


By Dan Fitzmaurice

The Oregon Trail card is a passport to the arts.

When Laura Young lost her job, she lost the chance  to arts events in Portland, too. The tickets were just too expensive.

But she also received food stamps through the state’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance(SNAP) program, which she relies upon to buy groceries. And now, a new program started by local classical music groups has opened up the doors for Laura and the 1-in-5 Oregonians who receive SNAP to attend concerts and plays they couldn’t have afforded otherwise.

“I always read about the arts offerings in The Oregonian and was so excited to buy affordable tickets to attend some shows with the Arts for All program,” Laura wrote ArtsWatch. “I think it’s important that my granddaughter, who lives with me, experiences performing arts of all kinds live. I have always loved to support the arts and hope the program will continue to grow.”

Laura and her granddaughter took a short pilgrimage away from their normal routine for unforgettable afternoons with the Oregon Ballet Theater and Portland Center Stage this year. The tickets were five dollars each.