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Wednesday 06.13.07

« PAC Call for Submissions | Main | Around the Web: Venice Biennal 2007 Edition »

Sammy say's get organized

Sam Adam's wears a polka-dotted tie and addresses the creative community

Ok last night's well attended town hall was about what I expected, taking several hours to state what can be summed up in 5 minutes:

1) The arts are a huge economic driver... in fact I heard some restaurant manager types chatting about First Thursday as I walked to the event. One said "It's the biggest night of the month, insanely good business." nuff said.

2) The creative community is disorganized, this seemed to shock some but it is true.

3) The only way to pass some sort of serious funding ballot measure is to address any opposition from the outset... ie get the hotel, amusement etc. businesses in on the plan from the outset. The best bet seems like a arts and culture tourism funding project and total Portland "the art city" branding push. How can that funding help individual creatives??? Possibly involve indivual artists as the face of the city somehow? A suitcase fund for artists is needed too but there is no room for that sort of thing in a tourism ballot measure, it would kill it. Though the ballot measure seemed like a defacto solution it's really just the most long range solution. There are a multitude of other non-tax related projects to undertake simultaneously.

4) Increase tourism, increase affordability of space etc.

5) For massive funding changes it will take a ballot measure which takes a lot or organization, savvy and refinement (this is possible but incentives for developers to set aside space for non-profits can be done without a ballot measure and do more immediate good).

Sure, there were lots of fine ideas but only TJ Norris' comment about the sad state of critical writing in Portland came close to the huge issue: excellence and higher expectations.


Portland has a great scene with a lot of individual talent the city cant really take too much credit for and if we just create a thousand more crappy venues in crappy spaces ill suited to their use by people who don't know much about art... it wont do any good. Everyone from Adams, to RACC & NWBCA, to publications and the artists all need to learn one mantra, "creativity fails if excellence and serious critical fortitude is not applied to insure it's serious." Simply celebrating mediocre efforts leads to a culture of mediocrity. Sure, some feel a rising tide will lift all ships, but it takes a seriousness to give any credibility to the effort. In other words, stop making due and hiding behind the words creative and community.

here is a link toComSam.com's discussion

B.T.W. choreographers were listed on the bubble map... but it was under film/video???

*Update... watch it here:

Posted by Jeff Jahn on June 13, 2007 at 17:41 | Comments (3)


Huh. Well, I start to agree. I am skeptical about municipal fixes to messes that are, probably, unfixable.

Most of the conversation was about how to create a better artist, and we need to be thinking about how to create a better audience. And "we" does not need to include the city (tho I like Sam + team). I worry a municipal effort would melt into simple boosterism - and this is my agreement with you - and maintaining a critical, self-reflective, and cosmopolitan (versus provincial) perspective is essential.

Where this business-sided notion falls flat is with arts that don't have consistent revenue. It fails the mission of the Portland Music Center for Greg Dubay to charge market rates for trumpet lessons. Wouldn't young artists, minority artists, disabled artists, even anonymous abstract conceptual artists be punished in a smarter audience paradigm? Because no matter how you juice it, it is still public relations and the majority will flow to the juggernauts, as Brian put it (while glaring at the PAM crew).

Posted by: cicolini [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 13, 2007 10:07 PM

Yeah I like Sam & crew too... hell they live in my general neighborhood even.... so I run into them over at new seasons.

Still, I believe the tourism campaign is the only thing that could help a wide swath in audience building (it galvanizes local support when tourists from elsewhere make the trek to Portland). Support of tourism would help the smaller groups get international recognition... allow young designers a shot a creating branding, websites ads etc... use the names/faces of young talented artists etc.

It's true that it will help the big boys the most... but is that bad when all but PAM seem to have cash flow problems... and package deals draw toursists. Packages take organization and POVA has had its budget continually slashed.

And here's a lil secret, the sad state of local organizations is not PAM's fault... the fact is they are consistent and that is why they get consistent funding. If Portland's art organs were more consistent they would get more consistent support as well. For very young organizations there isnt enough help and for older ones that shoud know better they seem to change directions too often.

So demonizing PAM isnt fair... fact is they are very old, have billions of dollars worth of art in their collection and if that cant be supported/sustained... then there is no hope for anyone else. Yes Im VP of the Contemporary Art Council over there but I can say that they are the backbone and a template (they have gotten a lot more sophisticated in the last 2 years themselves).

The PAM template is:

1) clearly state your mission.. dont just opportunistically hitch your wagon to any option that presents itself.

2) do it

3) present intelligent, intellectually sound programming

4) do it again and again

5) dont try to be all things to everyone, be one thing and do it well.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 14, 2007 10:08 AM

Herding Cats in New Florence:
Sam Adams Calls the Portland Creative Community to Action

By Duane Snider

Sam Adam�s recent Town Hall meeting for the local creative community is without a doubt a watermark in the history of the Portland art scene. In the 25 years I have been watching the growth of the local art scene I can not remember such a broadly focused effort to politically organize the regions creative talent. Unfortunately, many members of the creative community have little talent and interest for politics.

Organizing artists, which is much like herding cats, exposes many individuals and groups with divergent agendas and wide ranging ideas about how to accomplish their goals. Sam understands that the only chance of getting this group activated and organized is to state the obvious facts to make a strong case for why they need to be interested and involved, then repeat that case like a mantra.

After the presentation I encountered my friend Robert who happens to be one of the directors of the Polaris Dance Company; a highly acclaimed but typically under-funded non-profit arts group. He had a strained look on his face. I asked him what he thought of the event. He said �I think it was great to hear all this information about the arts community, arts funding, and the economic impact. But the problem I have is, with the amount of time and energy we spend forming our organizations, creating our art (dance pieces), performing the programs, and scraping out enough money to pay the rent, how do we find more time and energy to be politically active?�

I responded saying �I know as an artist you have difficulty understanding and accepting that all human interaction involving individuals and organizations involve some level of politics; especially if any amount of money is involved. What you need to realize is that as an artist you have an opportunity give your audience a variety of messages. You have a fan base, so you might consider making a pitch to your fan for getting involved in political action that promotes and supports their favorite arts organizations�.

I saw Robert a few days later and ask if he had any thoughts about my comment. He responded, �Most of the people you�re talking about already volunteer for us and are pretty much maxed out�.

I replied, �then as a community we need to expand the support base with aggressive audience development strategies�. Of course what�s left is the question of how do we make that happen and what strategies have a chance of working in a market so thoroughly saturated with artistic offerings? Maybe we could use Portland�s image as a Creative Mecca to expand the audience.

The statistical numbers Sam laid out in the first portion of the meeting makes a strong case for why Portland can be viewed as one of the most important incubator of artistic and creative talent in North America. About a year ago Ruth Ann Brown, owner of the New American Art Union, came back from a trip to New York and mentioned a headline she saw in the New York Times Arts section that read �Leave New York, Move to Portland�. The article was aimed at artists. We are on the map, not just nationally but internationally.

Portland has long been a magnet for the best creative talent. The result is and art scene so large and of such high quality that it make no sense for a town this size, but here it is. The arts community gets this, but sadly, most of the local population hasn�t the vaguest idea how important the local art scene is. I have been calling Portland the �Florence of North America� in conversations as a way of offering some perspective on the significance of the arts in our city.

Portland�s image as a prime destination art market is widely accepted around the country. Seventy percent of the art work sold here is bought by people who don�t live here. What I believe sets us apart from other large art markets can be summed up very simply. In the big city art markets it�s all about the hype, but here, it�s about the work.

People don�t come here to buy high priced art by famous over-hyped artists; they come here to buy high quality work at insanely affordable prices, by artists they probably never heard of. I repeat, it�s about the work, not the hype. I�m not saying that the Portland scene is devoid of hype; it arrived with the Bucanan�s at PAM. However, much of what happens here gets nothing more than grass roots promotion. Alterative spaces like RAKE Gallery and The Launching Pad Gallery are good examples of emerging gallery collectives.

There is a need for putting more energy and resources into developing tourism. Even though the Portland Oregon Visitors Bureau has done great job promoting Portland as cultural tourism destination over the last ten years, there is a huge potential for continued expansion in this area. What is being missed is the potential opportunity for expanding the local arts audience. I don�t understand why our national image is not more aggressively exploited to promote the scene locally.

Sam�s account of the creation of a political action committee for the arts carries the potential of stabilizing funding for many of the great non- profits in the area. A stable funding base for the non-profit arts will help validate the Portland�s national image as a great art scene.

Comments from at least one person attending suggest that the town hall meeting effort was well organized with the best of intentions, but the information that came out was rather obvious and way over due. The advice the same person gave was framed in terms of the issues that have been begging government and community attention for years. The most urgent part of the message was for the arts community to place a premium on excellence in what is shown and a plea to avoid dumbing down the work for the sake of bringing in a larger audience.

This is a valid and important point of view. However, this attitude does little to help the arts community and the general public to understand the importance of this call to political action in terms of the potential payoff for the region�s cultural commerce and the challenges inherent in undertaking this task.

One missing ingredient is an aggressive public relations and marketing plan that targets the broadest possible audience regionally and nationally. The economic impact numbers offer a great selling point for convincing businesses to contribute resources for promoting the quality and accessibility of the Portland art scene.

Creation of a comprehensive strategy for audience development aimed at adults as well as K through 12 school kids is essential. As Sam pointed out, it has been a full generation since a majority of school aged children had access to arts education. We don�t seem to acknowledge the need for programs designed to remind the general public that art is for everyone, not just a privileged minority. I am certain that adults in this country could enjoy more involvement with the arts, but feel disenfranchised by the perception of an elitist attitude from the arts community and the art market.

Part of this elitism comes from what I call the Medici syndrome. The powerful Medici family dominated the arena of cultural commerce in Florence during the Renaissance. The only other competition for dominance of the art scene there was the Catholic Church. In Portland we don�t have such a high concentration of patronage, but we do have a small and tight knit group of families, businesses, and individuals who control the majority of cash flow to all the major non-profits. They also play the roll of market makers in the local gallery scene.

We hear the pleas for more patrons and collectors like a broken record. The rhetorical response is always �Portland lacks the corporate base of other large cities like Seattle, San Francisco, or LA.� If you accept this, then the need for programs aimed at expanding the audience base becomes obvious and urgent. We need to make the tent big enough for every one.

That doesn�t mean we have to dumb down any of the art offered to the public. However, we do need to be mindful of offering shows, events, and opportunities for people at all levels of appreciation. We don�t start off a first grader with algebra or trigonometry. Maybe we should embrace things like the Art in the Pearl show, Portland Open Studios, and those many neighborhood art walks as useful entry point for many people who got short changed on arts education.

The efforts of organizations like The Portland Art Center, and The Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center have made great progress in teaching the public that great art can be found outside the austere high end gallery scene. The many alterative galleries like the Everett Street Lofts complex and the East Side First Friday galleries comprise the core of our amazing emerging art scene. These galleries form the deep well of new young talent that is building a new young audience. These and many other arts non-profits need and deserve more public funding. There is so much left to do.

Most of the people that came to the town hall were looking to get something rather than give support. They got a lot, but I�m not sure how many in the audience came away with and understanding of what they were offered. Sam stated out the outset that he believed in the Portland Creative Community and he was willing to spend considerable political capital to get something on the ballot. Understand this, that kind of political capital rarely comes along for any arts community, and it almost never comes with the potential payoff that is attached to this opportunity.

We need to face the fact that all this energy and activity must be nurtured and supported by the artists and the audience. Without a sustained campaign of organ of organized activism this level and quality of cultural activity probably can�t be maintained. This is why Sam�s Town Hall Meeting was a watermark event. It opens the door for creating enough support to carry our community to the great heights. We have the opportunity to mold Portland into the Florence of North America, if we just get our act together. Let�s get with it.

Posted by: Duane [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 27, 2007 06:31 PM

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