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Wednesday 08.03.05

« Thursday Trippin' {East to West} | Main | I'm a man of wealth and taste »

RACC-ing up a new cultural survey


The Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) just released the results of a new arts and culture survey poll backing up the already widely known anecdote that Portland is an extremely liberal, creative city that likes to say it likes to support the arts. Read it here.

Here is just one highlight:

"Portland-area residents are avid consumers of arts and culture performances and exhibitions. Almost two-thirds of the population (72%) attends an arts and culture events at least every few months. Fully one-third attend arts and culture events at least once a month. 16% attend arts events at least once a week."

Ok, but anyone that attends an arts event every few months probably isn't all that serious a cultural consumer, important but not a core audience. The once a monthers are important too but it's that last group that really got my attention. Most of my friends are at least once a weekers and that is the group that will redefine Portland arts patronage.

I want to know more about that 16% but the statistical sample of 405 voters seems too small (only 64.8 people) to shine a detailed and meaningful light on their activity. Since there are more than 2.1 million residents in the metro area that 16% translates to 336,000 or so relatively serious arts patrons. I'm not talking about Arlene Schnitzer, Sarah Meigs or the Marks here, I'm talking about arts consumers that fill the buildings those people put up.

This 336,000 are increasingly important because RACC is about to significantly expand its payroll deduction program which previously was limited to a couple of employers like ODS. If 50,000 people gave 100 a year suddenly RACC would become a significantly stronger force. This funding could really transform the cultural landscape in town but only if very intelligent decisions are made. Simply throwing money at creative activity means nothing unless excellence is demanded. I think Portland does a good job with community arts but often fails when individuals show signs of excellence... this is changing but could be a lot better and opportunities have been missed.

Let's focus on the visual arts, which are completely underserved institutionally in town (yet continually touted in studies and used to fund all sorts of other organizations). The visual arts (including design) currently does not have a serious kunsthalle for international and local artists on the move (probably because that expertise is not easy to come by and getting some press attention from the Oregonian is not a good judge of that kind of aptitude). Not all artists in Portland are merely "creative", there are national and internationally rising artists in town with a pool of 10000+ who would like to develop themselves similarly. Their activities would further brand Portland as the hot creative center it is becoming.

Suggestion, how about a Mayor's prize for artists? The prize could have a shortlist of 3 artists who have an exhibition (shortlist & winner juried by 5 locals and outsiders like the Turner prize). In the end one deserving soul wins. Cash prize of a $30-50,000 residency with stipulations for talking to schools would inspire kids and give them first hand knowledge of how a serious artist thinks (which is more like a scientist/engineer than a party person). That size of prize would also get Portland lots of national branding as an art city (it's cheap for advertising).

In the end the ultimate effects this new study and the Met Life discussion group might have depends on one thing, choosing savvy sophisticated leaders to formulate and implement innovative ideas about Portland's creative future. Why? Because laymen, (politicians included) wont be discerning enough to keep this from becoming a feel good, "creativity is great" drivel and a lot is at stake.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on August 03, 2005 at 21:38 | Comments (0)


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