steve novick

The candidates have reached a consensus on the arts

A candidates forum reveals broad support for the arts tax and RACC, but not a lot of new thinking

The Candidates Forum on Arts and Culture at the Armory Building in the Pearl District on Tuesday afternoon was a tame affair.

On one hand, the five candidates there to persuade the arts community to vote for them (Stuart Emmons, Steve Novick, Amanda Fritz, Jules Bailey and Ted Wheeler) all expressed at least conditional support for the arts policy status quo. That means they said nice things about the Regional Arts & Culture Council, which administers the $5 million or so the City of Portland gives to the arts every year, and they didn’t want to trim that back if at all possible. And they all supported the Arts Tax, though they wanted to increase compliance so that the arts groups and school kids who benefited from it could receive the full amount due them.

The candidates for city council and mayor gather to talk about the arts...and other things./photo by John Strieder / OPB

The candidates for city council and mayor gather to talk about the arts…and other things./photo by John Strieder / OPB

On the the other hand, no one had exciting new programs to propose or striking new formulations about how the arts and the culture in which they are embedded serve each other now and might serve each other better in the future.

So, yes, the late afternoon forum (on the very afternoon federal and state authorities apprehended Ammon Bundy in eastern Oregon, killing onein the process) was pretty sleepy, despite the best efforts of Oregon Public Broadcasting moderator April Baer to stir things up.

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Portland in 1890: Yes, things can change here quickly.

The Gerding Theatre in the Armory building wasn’t totally full Monday night for a candidates forum devoted to the arts, but it was close, and the audience was full of local arts world luminaries. My nearest neighbors in my row included photographer Chris Rauschenberg of Blue Sky Gallery, Jamey “BodyVox” Hampton and Brian “Portland Art Museum” Ferriso. I felt so under-dressed!

The stage was littered with props and the set from “Red,” Portland Center Stage’s Mark Rothko bio-drama, but enough space was cleared for the five candidates who appeared plus Randy “Portland Monthly” Gragg, who moderated.

The forum was pretty informal — for example, it included random questions about local artists and organizations. The mayoral candidates on hand (Eleen Brady and Charlie Hales handled these with relative ease, while the council candidates (Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Steve Novick and Brian Parrott) mostly whiffed on theirs. The answers to the “real” questions were confined to a minute or two, maximum, and that allowed everyone to do a little ducking, when they didn’t really know what the question was about.

An Arts Forum With Candidates for Portland Mayor and City Council from Creative Advocacy Network on Vimeo.

That means we didn’t really get a solid idea of how deeply the candidates believe the arts are integrated into the life of the city, how critical they believe the arts are to a thriving creative economy, or even how crucial that creative economy is to the city’s future. No one mentioned comic books, the music scene or architecture and any other sort of design, though movie and television production got a few shout-outs.

Still, I left thinking that the candidates, with the exception of council candidate Parrott, understood and supported the efforts of Mayor Sam Adams to preserve RACC arts funding during the recession, agreed with his assessment that the arts are important to the city and believed that an initiative to boost government contributions to the arts significantly, through additional taxes or fees, especially for arts education is a good idea. If Mayor Adams’ ideas about these things have become “common sense” for our politicians in general, that’s pretty significant, all by itself.

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