In 2020, we got work done for Oregon’s arts and culture in spite of everything we faced. We proved that arts and culture were not cancelled for good and we presisted, harder than ever. Our senior advisor, Sue Hildick writes about the Cultural Advocacy Coalition’s achievements.

Last year was like no other in our history as we have navigated a divisive political environment, repeated injustices and inequities for disenfranchised people, and a global pandemic. Humanity has had to adapt to survive, and many of our people have paid the ultimate price with their lives. We continue to stand strong as a community of creative providers knowing that arts, culture, history, heritage and humanities are, and will continue to be, an important thread in our collective recovery.  

While we were concerned our modest Coalition might be threatened with extinction given the heavy financial toll last year brought to our members and partners, we were wrong. Our members and our friends stepped up more than ever to the support the advocacy work of the Cultural Advocacy Coalition with the hope of deepening our impact and outcomes. With gratitude, we are happy to report that the investment in collective advocacy has had strong results.

The CAC’s mission is to advocate for policies and funding that will create a thriving environment for Oregon’s cultural sector. We began 2020 with a state legislative session in which we were able to enact an increase of $10 per plate to the license plates that raise funds for the Oregon Cultural Trust (OCT).  We hosted an Advocacy Day in February, 2020, to accomplish this goal and many of our members participated to make this case.  The OCT has since conducted a successful re-design process for the plate and will launch it anew in the fall of 2021.

When the pandemic fell upon our state and nation, we experienced a retrenchment by the state on a key CAC accomplishment of 2019.  Lottery-backed bonds that the CAC had secured for the Lincoln City Cultural Center and the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts were postponed as the state did not have enough lottery revenue to sell bonds.  Our other 2019 capital projects each experienced a 15% cut in the state dollars previously secured as well.  However, there still remain millions of state dollars spread across the Liberty Theatre, the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, the Cottage Theatre and the High Desert Museum.  We will be advocating for the restoration of the LCCC and Reser commitments in the 2021 session as lottery funding has stabilized.

As state dollars declined, the federal government stepped in with national funding to support both employers and individuals with grants and loans from the Small Business Administration; extended and increased unemployment benefits; leave and stimulus payments, and large state grants.  Oregon received $1.3 billion from the initial Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  The CAC joined with the local leaders of the National Independent Venue Association to secure $50 m. of those federal funds for the cultural sector – this was the largest allocation to arts and culture from federal CARES money of any state in the Nation.

Several venues received direct allocations from state policymakers and others applied to a fund of $26 m. given to the Oregon Cultural Trust to distribute to 621 cultural organizations. There were also increases in NEA and NEH funding at the federal level that had some trickle-down grants for our members.  Locally, the Oregon Community Foundation and several philanthropic partners set up a grant fund to support our sector. CAC assisted our members with a great deal of advocacy with the Governor’s staff to explain the unique requirements of cultural venues in reopening their doors in COVID times.

Leaders of the CAC prioritized equity, diversity and inclusion values this year and created a racial equity lens to be used in all aspects of the organization so that we advocate for just and equitable resources and public policies.  The board engaged in a full-day training led by John Lenssen and Carmen Gelman in October and utilized an equity lens in the capital construction endorsement process and the selection of new board members for 2021.  We have committed to using our racial equity lens in our policies, our advocacy agenda, hiring, the composition of our board, in access and award of our grant applications, programs, practices, and decisions for racial equity and intersectionality.  We are committed to lifting up all people.

Our statewide call for proposals for capital construction projects resulted in over 40 applications from all corners of the state – at least a 50% increase from previous cycles.  Our volunteer committee examined all of these proposals and our board endorsed 11 projects totaling $9.5 m. for the 2021 session.  We will seek state dollars for incredible projects such as:  Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center in Joseph, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre in Baker City, the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, the Siletz Tribal Arts Cultural Heritage Center in Siletz, and the Little Theatre on the Bay in North Bend.  For the first time, we published an additional list of 11 projects in the pipeline for future funding.

Structurally, the CAC grew its resources with a significant grant for operating support from the Oregon Community Foundation and its partners in COVID relief, and several new members.  Most of our previous members renewed their participation in the Coalition and several new organizations joined as part of participating in our capital construction endorsement process.

We remain in good partnership with leadership of the Oregon Arts Commission and the Oregon Cultural Trust and support their efforts to reform their structure to streamline decision-making and administrative costs.  We had wished this work was complete for the 2021 legislative session.  Since it is not, we are working on our own set of principles to be considered in that process.  

We enter this new legislative session in 2021 with hope for the future post-COVID where emerging vaccines allow us to gather again to enjoy arts and culture offline and in-person.  With the richness of an artist capturing our thoughts, the words of Kim Stafford in “Dr. Fauci’s Smile: Pandemic Poems” steer us forward:

In the pandemic, it all comes at you with a roar – the strings inflicting see-saw statistics of infection and demise, crescendo building like a wave, while the wind section drives a descending economic scale, fretted with shrill alarms on piccolo. Someone hammers the tympani for hunger, loss, fear,and fury, while the xylophone speaks news-notes like bells – and one brazen political trumpetblares from a throng of muted brass bleating in cacophony. This is the scherzo, the brazen rush some Beethoven never finished, raw and random, longing for adagio.

From the promontory of your little life, you face this storm of discord, your hair blownback, tears streaming from your eyes, turning your head to hear inside this thunder, somewhere in there, surely, a throbbing double-bass – oh beating heart, sustain us.

Symphony in a Minor Key

Thank you for supporting Oregon’s culture.

Sue Hildick
Senior Advisor
Cultural Advocacy Coalition