Brian Rogers

$50 million? It’s a beginning

ArtsWatch Weekly: An emergency lifeline to Oregon's cultural sector staves off pandemic disaster. But the economic problem is still urgent.

FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS SOUNDS LIKE A LOT. AND IT IS. But spread it across the entire state of Oregon to aid a cultural infrastructure devastated economically by pandemic shutdowns and the cash runs out pretty quickly. The Legislature’s Joint Emergency Board approved the bailout on Tuesday, as part of a $200 million general economic package distributed by the state through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. The significant cultural part of the package came after a spirited lobbying push by groups and individuals, and notably recognized an economic truth that is often overlooked: Cultural workers are workers, and when they lose work they undergo the same stresses as anyone else thrown out of a job. “People who work in cultural organizations have families, have to pay the mortgage or the rent, have children to feed,” Brian Rogers, executive director of the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, said in a telephone conversation on Wednesday. “Without these funds coming in, these organizations are having a difficult time.”

The Emergency Board, and the state itself, can’t solve all the problems of the reeling cultural sector by themselves. The $50 million E Board allocation is exactly what it says it is – an emergency measure, meant to lend a significant hand during a disaster and help stave off collapse. It can’t magically make up the lost income of an entire industry that’s been hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic. A statewide Cultural Trust survey in May projected a $40 million loss by June 30 for the 330 cultural groups (out of more than 1,400 that the Trust tracks) that responded. It’s now mid-July, with no clear end in sight, and the losses keep piling up. For perspective, the $4.71 million that the E Board is delivering to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which got the biggest allocation granted, covers a little more than 10 percent of the festival’s annual budget.
 

Everything’s coming up virtual. The 70-year-old Salem Art Association Art Fair and Festival, pictured in a previous year, becomes a virtual event this year, celebrated long-distance on Saturday and Sunday, July 18-19. Photo courtesy Oregon Cultural Trust 

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Home front: arts at a distance

ArtsWatch Weekly: As the coronavirus crisis reshapes the world, culture shifts gears and our virtual and physical realities overlap

HOW IS SOCIAL DISTANCING WORKING IN YOUR CORNER OF THE WORLD? Are you out and about at all – one of the vital people in our food and delivery and public utility and medical-care systems, maybe, keeping things going through the crisis? Are you busily creating a makeshift world while you keep inside your home, bringing the outside in virtually, via emails and social media and radio and television and music downloads? Are you keeping a sense of the actual, physical territory of our lives that we take for granted until it’s not under our feet anymore?

It’s been five weeks since I’ve been anywhere but home, and my reality has shifted both very little and very much. I’ve been lucky. I have good shelter, and food, and I’m sharing space with close family (including one indispensable and highly entertaining cat). I work from home, anyway, so the adjustment hasn’t been nearly so abrupt as it has been for many people. I miss my afternoon coffee-shop breaks, and going out for conversations with writers or news sources, and real-time, face-to-face interaction with performing and visual art. But those things are small potatoes. I’ve been spared the horrors the COVID-19 pandemic has visited on so many.

The difference between the real and the virtual becomes stark when the real is taken away from us. The other day I was reading Out of Time: Mortality and the Old Masters, a particularly timely column in The New Yorker by the veteran art critic Peter Schjeldahl in which he ponders why “the art of what we term the Old Masters (has) so much more soulful heft than that of most moderns and nearly all of our contemporaries.” It’s an imaginative and provocative piece of writing, bound to raise a few hackles and also prompt a lot of nods of agreement. In it he comments on the real and the not-quite-real – “… the art in the world’s now shuttered museums: inoperative without the physical presence of attentive viewers. Online ‘virtual tours’ add insult to injury, in my view, as strictly spectacular, amorphous disembodiments of aesthetic experience. Inaccessible, the works conjure in the imagination a significance that we have taken for granted.”

El Greco, “View of Toledo,” 1596-1600, oil on canvas, 47.8 x 42.8 inches, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929.

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Friday coronavirus arts news roundup

A news update about the relief efforts for artists and arts organizations in Oregon

The country’s chief executive revels in the ratings for his crazy coronavirus briefings in D.C. Meanwhile, the rest of us deal with the pandemic itself, trying to protect our health and scrape together enough money for the culture to keep from falling into a deep state of dormancy. Sorry, but that’s about as jolly as this roundup of arts news in Oregon is likely to get. Well, maybe there ARE some glimmers.

In case you missed it, yesterday I talked to Brian Rogers, the director of the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Oregon Arts Commission, about what he was seeing out there and the status of the emergency fund the Cultural Trust is assembling. Not to mention how much of that woefully inadequate $75 million the Congress allocated for the National Endowment for the Arts is coming to Oregon. The short answers: “pretty grim,” waiting for approval from the next session of the Oregon legislature, and not much.

Subashini Ganesan and Kim Stafford, the city’s Creative Laureate and the state’s Poet Laureate, started a relief fund for artists, as you probably already know. In the early days of the lockdown they raised $95,000, which they have distributed to 245 artists in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, mostly in $400-$500 increments. Ganesan reports that MRG Foundation and a few other independent donors have donated an additional $40,000. “Kim and I are reading through a little over 250 applications (that were received through March 29th) to pull together the next round of recipients,” she wrote.

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State of the arts: “Everyone is experiencing the worst”

Brian Rogers, the director of the State's arts service arms, talks about the condition of arts organization and grant opportunities on the way

Brian Rogers is the director of the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust, and during the first two weeks of the coronavirus lockdown he called dozens of arts organizations of all sizes to check in.

And?

“It’s pretty grim,” Rogers said. Rogers is not a histrionic kind of guy, so he said it matter-of-factly. He also provided some historic context for the effect the pandemic is having on the arts. During the last recession in 2008, he said, most of the larger arts organizations were able to adjust with some pain, but made it through OK. So did the smallest groups. “The mid-sized organizations experienced the worst.”

All the state’s arts organizations, even the largest arts ones (such as the Oregon Symphony), are facing difficult times.

And now?

“During this time, everyone is experiencing the worst,” he said. “I do think it’s becoming more and more likely that a couple of big organizations will be forced to shut down.”

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