The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg would be a remarkable resource even in the culturally rich neighborhoods of Portland. That it happens to be in rural Yamhill County serves as an inspiration to any community that seeks to create space for the arts.
Sean Andries, the center’s director, has been at the cultural center for two years following previous roles with Portland Center Stage and the Circus Project. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon in theater and arts administration and a PTP Certificate from the Dell’Arte School. Carissa Burkett, curator and director of arts programs, also has worked at the Chehalem center for a little more than two years. She received her BA in studio art from Azusa Pacific University and her MFA in visual arts from Vermont College of Fine Art.
VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS
The center is housed in a sprawling, two-story brick building just north of Newberg’s city library. Originally a school built in 1935 as a Works Progress Administration project, the building is owned by the Chehalem Park & Recreation District. The nonprofit cultural center is responsible for everything inside, including several visual art galleries and exhibition halls that have featured some stunning exhibitions over the past couple of years. There also are studios and classrooms for arts classes, clay work, and music recording; a 5,200-square-foot ballroom; and a kitchen/culinary arts studio. More is in the works, including a 250-seat theater.
How would you characterize the general state of artistic and cultural life in Newberg and Yamhill County?
Burkett: Throughout the two years that I have been working at the CCC, I’ve seen exponential growth in the ways that the community engages with and is impacted by the center. 2020 will be the 10th year that the center has been running, and as with any organization, we spent a substantial amount of time establishing ourselves in the community, defining who we are and what it is that we do, and then trying to get the word out. In the past two years, our youth and adult art classes have almost doubled both in what we offer and in students signing up. The quantity and caliber of visual art exhibitions has grown and the engagement with these exhibits has taken off. Folks are excited about what is happening and there seems to be a significant impact, more than ever before.
What should people know about the Chehalem Cultural Center? What does it offer the community?
Andries: The CCC creates an environment for community to happen. It is our mission here to connect community and culture. I think we play a vital role in this region by providing a fertile ground for people of all walks of life to cross paths and connect. We do this by programming our own opportunities like classes, performances, and festivals, but we also work to support many of the local events created by our community.
Burkett: The CCC offers a wide variety of kids’ and adult art classes and workshops, a ceramics open studio, satellite art classes — “Artful Aging” and “Youth Mariachi” program and summer art classes for the Migrant Summer School program — and we recently expanded into the culinary arts with our new Cox Family Culinary Enrichment Center.
We offer several large, free, annual public festivals and events: the Newberg Camellia Festival & Run/Walk, the Willamette Valley Lavender Festival, an annual MLK Day celebration, annual Hispanic Heritage month-long programming, and a Dia de Muertos celebration. We also offer ticketed and free performing-arts concerts and events throughout the year, offering a wide array of experiences to the community.
We also offer our spaces as a rental venue for the community to hold their own events. Our spaces allows hundreds of events to take place, from weddings and quinceñeras to fundraisers, meetings, birthday parties, and showers.
What are some of the challenges you face in running such a large arts center in a relatively small community?
Burkett: I would say our biggest challenge is keeping up with the growth. We have added new positions to help take on more work as we expand our offerings. Next year we will have a new full-time position that will focus on growing our performing arts programs.
Andries: I think one of the unique challenges in a rural community is that we have a wide geographical area to cover. It is our goal to provide access to arts and culture for people throughout our region. Finding ways to not only invite people from communities outside of Newberg into our center but also opportunities for us to go out and join them where they are is always a pressing need. Aside from the great geographical area we cover, we also serve a wide variety of interests and overlap with a number of other programs and offerings. Finding ways that we all work best to support each other, not duplicate efforts, and help add value to the collective growth of arts and culture in Yamhill County is something we think about often.
What has had the biggest impact on the arts in your area or the center in the past few years?
Andries: I think the biggest change for the CCC has been the opening of our new Cox Family Culinary Center. The CCC has a whole new avenue through which to explore the art and culture of our life. So much of our culture is wrapped up in the food we eat and the people we share it with. Having a culinary staging room and classroom gives the CCC new capacity to shine a light on those traditions.
There’s been a remarkable diversity of exhibitions in your galleries. Can you tell us a little about how those come together? What do you look for? And what can we expect in 2020?
Burkett: My goals in curating exhibitions at the center are to bring in very diverse mediums, styles, subject matters, and artists to allow the community the opportunity to see things that they have never seen before, as well as see things that they know and love. I try to showcase the local talent as well as bring in work by regional, national, and internationally known artists. With so few exhibition spaces in the county, I’m trying to hit as many notes as possible in my exhibition season. I’m very excited for 2020’s exhibitions! We will have hanging glass sculptures, photography, plein air painting, intricate paper cutting, Studio Art Quilt Association’s touring exhibition on climate change, the Oregon Watercolor Society’s annual juried exhibit, a wood fire ceramics takeover, and many more.
The country is in a period of political and social turbulence, and regardless of the outcome of any election, ecological problems related to climate change and industrialization will surely worsen. How do you see those issues resonating and finding expression in your community, and in the arts?
Burkett: Throughout history, art has always been a means to comment on, think about, fight against, highlight, and to try to cope with problems in the world. I am excited and honored to be able to offer the space and opportunity for the community to be able to engage in these ways through the arts in their community. This next year has programming, classes, and exhibitions planned that will allow for dialogue and expression, and I am excited to hold space for issues, ideas, and projects that emerge from the community that need to be shared and addressed in ways that we can facilitate at the center. We already have many things planned such as our annual MLK Day celebration, our Writer’s Open Mic Series, several exhibitions focused on climate change and the environment.
What are your goals and expectations for the coming year in the arts, professionally and personally?
Burkett: For 2020, we are working hard to significantly increase our performing arts offerings: concerts, staged readings, theater, dance performances, and the like. We are also working hard to increase our year-round programming that celebrates the diversity in our community. We partnered with Instituto de Cultura Oregoniana this year on programming for our Hispanic Heritage Month events, and we are looking to broaden this programming to take place throughout the year.
I am stepping into a new role in 2020 as director of arts programs (a position that the center has never had before) and am looking forward to bringing on our new public programs coordinator and working with our other arts programs staff to grow our programming and bring a strong vision for the future of our arts programs.
Andries: Our goal here at the CCC is to serve our community as best we can by programming a wide variety of classes, performances, concerts, festivals, and other events that encourage as many people as possible to be an active participant in their community. I would like to see people get out and see more art!
This is the fourteenth in a series of twenty interviews in twenty days with arts and cultural figures around Oregon, creating a group portrait of the state of the arts in the state. It looks at where we’ve been, where we are, and what might or should happen culturally in the 2020s.
- Rachel Barreras-Kleemann. The “small” goals of the Newport dance teacher, who learned African-Brazilian dance forms in Brazil and performed with the marching samba band Lions of Batucuda: keep kids motivated to dance, give low-income kids a place to go.
- Niel DePonte. The Portland percussionist, composer, and conductor for more than 40 years thinks about thorny issues ahead, and how to tackle them.
- Darcy Dolge, Sarah West, and Nancy Knowles. Three leaders of La Grande’s Art Center East, which helps serve a sprawling ten-county stretch of Eastern Oregon, say funding cuts could have been dire in their rural area, but the community stepped up to keep arts thriving.
- Maya Vivas and Leila Haile. The founders of North Mississippi Avenue’s Ori Gallery “often joke about how we would love to not be the only Queer, Black-run art space in town.”
- Christopher Acebo. The longtime key figure at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and recent chair of the Oregon Arts Commission talks about diversity, funding, and who controls the gate to the castle.
- Yulia Arakelyan and Erik Ferguson. Beyond the arts bubble, the Wobbly duo see a dangerous world: “Hate based crime directed against people with disabilities has gone up.”
- John Olbrantz. The director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art talks about the museum, Salem’s lively arts community, and its “blessing and curse” of being near Portland.
- Joamette Gil. The lowdown on the Power & Magic of creating an indie comics universe that tells tales of life, love, and adventure in a nonbinary culture of color.
- Rachael Carnes. The Eugene playwright, who’s written more than 80 plays in three years, praises her city’s bubbling arts community but fears it’s getting harder to break in: “Access is the foundation for a vibrant arts scene.”
- Molly Alloy and Nathanael Andreini. “There’s a notion in Portland that anyone living outside Portland is a Klan member. … in fact the small towns and rural communities here are incredibly vibrant and resilient.” A new generation of leaders takes the renamed Five Oaks Museum deeper into the arts and into the diversity of culture around it.
- Ella Ray. “There is this level of resistance coming from formerly colonized people who are marginalized, and I feel something bubbling under the surface,” the art historian and museum activist declares.
- Martin Majkut. “The current generation of concert-goers is the last one with solid music education in schools.” Rogue Symphony Orchestra’s conductor talks about audiences, money, and music for troubled times.
- Ka’ila Farrell-Smith. The Southern Oregon artist, mentor, and anti-fracking activist creates visual art “rooted in Indigenous aesthetics and abstract formalism.”
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition, Oregon Cultural Trust, and Oregon Community Foundation.