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Tuesday 04.14.09

« ArtSpark April | Main | animated »

CAN can at Creative Capacity Town Hall

Last night's CAN (creative advocacy network) town hall meeting last night, ran long... had some interesting new info and was somewhat encouraging, even in this difficult economic environment. In general (as in past meetings) it was about creating a public funding source (via taxes) that has a chance of being passed. Many are understandably skeptical but this isn't being run like an arts organization, it's being run like a political campaign. Here is a detailed PDF of the plan. I'll post a link to video when available.

I liked the focus on suitcase funds for artists, greater cultural tourism support and more focus on emerging artists for RACC (that's a major change from RACC a decade ago when I first moved here, but there is always more work to do).
Pointing out the obvious, while planning to jump start 20 million in funding for the arts. Denver is so high because they passed an arts funding measure similar to what Portland is planning.

Basically, Sam Adams and company laid out a roadmap for increasing public support for the arts in Portland's metro area. As the image above shows, Portland hasn't done much in terms of civic funding, which creates a sustainability issue for arts organizations.

*UpdateSam Adams misheard PAM director Brian Ferriso say that the museum's new budget is now 7 million (it is actually 13 million down from 14 in 2006 before Ferriso). The sudden decrease in the endowment last year and less corporate parties in the ballrooms hit them hard so there are several major curatorial positions open. Needless to say if the top cultural institution in Oregon is in that position it explains why this CAN initiative is so key. PAM will survive but anyone without a major endowment...i.e. PICA, OBT etc. is likely in seriously dire straits. Some like PICA are pretty flexible but anyone with a large mortgage has their back against the wall.

Portland Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette (left) explained how previous levy measures were polled and passed. Key words are important and arts education will likely be the thrust of the measure, but polling will dictate the final pitch. The trick is to find out what the metro area will support.

Sam Adams making what I like to call his "art face"... it's part stroke, part good coffee in the morning...

Still, Sam Adams took his usual cautious/aggressive tone, and frankly his political career rides on his arts and transportation projects (example: bridges.. Portland should have a top level architectural competition for Columbia Crossing). Sure, someone like Rosales did well for the Willamette but he's a good pragmatic architect, not a major innovator... which we deserve in order to set a different bar design-wise in Portland. Thus the CRC requires a top name to maximize the 4.3+ billion investment it's gonna cost anyways... this is a Federal transit priority and a major aesthetic and eco example opportunity.

The three CAN doers (politically) laugh from a mixture of enthusiasm and fear (ok the challenges ahead).

The capacity crowd at the Armory was a bit subdued energy wise compared to previous town halls but generally enthusiastic. The general sense is that this is a very brave course of action and Portland's government isnt known for being brave (Ok the made in Oregon sign was brave but in a pointless way... this isnt pointless). Bravery is technically why Adams got elected, so it's good to see he's moving forward with this.

RACC head Eloise Damrosch took the sobering economy into account. The recent Oregon Cultural Trust rape and pillage by the state legislature made everyone vow no such thing could happen to these funds if successful. Still, RACC... as the administrator of this money still needs to ramp up its reputation with Portland's most active creatives. They are getting better but the panels that award funds often only have 1 or two peers an artist will recognize (look if I only recognize 1 or 2 names its a problem).

Since I have balls, let's ask... has RACC ever asked top level artist and administrator like Jacqueline Ehlis to sit on a committee or panel? Answer NO (*Update: taht was as of last week, now she's on an upcoming panel), and that's a problem (I'm not terribly sure she'd say yes if asked either but she commands a great deal of respect in the community, same with other young, internationally trained teachers like Modou Deng etc).

Look, I'll personally help RACC get artists to sign up and sit on review panels but only 1 or 2 artists on a review panel seems rather token considering where the money is supposed to be going. This is an improvement that takes no additional funding and will have a huge effect on the quality and buy-in of the arts community.

Left Kathleen Cosgrove (Creative Capacity facilitator) and Sam Adam's cultural czar Jennifer Yocum (right)

Eloise Damrosch (Left)and CAN board member Brian Ferriso (second left) and Jose Gonzalez (third from left)

A not bored just trying awful hard to be cool Thomas Lauderdale on the right (reading the strategic plan).

The most interesting moment was when Noah Mickens queried why he should support this initiative to fund RACC when RACC has never funded his or any of his active network's needs. The answer from Sam was straight... you might not get anything but if education and some major institutions are suddenly stronger it will help him indirectly in the arts ecosystem... so he expects his support.

In a way they are both right. RACC is still behind (and will likely always be) and the entire thrust of this cannot be a quantitative game.... ie how much funding will Noah or RACC get... it has to be about improving the climate qualitatively. To me that means RACC takes the opportunity to man up and individuals can see how institutions enable their efforts, even indirectly.

That means yes the more funding plan is key, but so is the way in which the dispersal of of funds is given. RACC (which had its most progressive year ever last year) should become less of a stranger to those of us who have made Portland even more interesting in the past decade and a half or so. ie the RACC committees that award funds need to recruit more from our cultural leadership pool so its more of an effective review by peers.

Special thanks to our fact checkers: Brian Ferriso, Jeff Hawthorne and Beth Heinrich. These sorts of things normally require entire bureaus and I wanted this out while the topic was fresh.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on April 14, 2009 at 12:13 | Comments (10)


While I am not about to defend all of RACC's choices for committees and panels, they were very open when I approached and expressed interest in sitting on an project grant panel. The panel I sat was 75% artists from wide backgrounds (the panel was inter-dics, so this made sense). While yes, maybe RACC should be stepping up and putting themselves out there more, they are stretched thin themselves serving a wide range of needs.

Artists who want to be involved or feel left out should approach RACC and ask to get involved, sit on a panel, take part in a grant writing workshop. While I am not going to deny that Noah Mickens circle of artists may be left out of the funding process by category restrictions or other means, RACC is very open to giving feedback on grant applications and helping artists prepare better applications. No matter how good the work is, at a certain point in order to gain public funding you have to be able to write about your work with a modicum of coherence (and a sensible budget).

Posted by: Julie [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 14, 2009 05:08 PM

Actually Jacqueline Ehlis will be on a public art selection panel for the Killingsworth Streetscape. And Moudou Deng recently completed his first year on the Portland Building Installation Space Artist Selection Panel. Our annual report lists all the volunteers who have contributed time and energy as Selection Panelists.

Peggy Kendellen
Public Art Manager, RACC

Posted by: Peggy Kendellen [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 15, 2009 10:43 AM

Thanks, that is an improvement already, I asked Ehlis last week if she had ever been on a RACC panel, she said no.

Being judged by respected peers is terribly important (Deng and Ehlis both hold key teaching positions in the city as well as being very sophisticated and connected outside of Portland). The more the more emerging artists know they are being judged by these sorts of people, the better. Can you post a link to the annual report.... PORT comments allow HTML.

BTW this post has had a ton of traffic and its great to get all of these clarifications. PORT is just an information conduit.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 15, 2009 11:01 AM

A further clarification: Jacqueline Ehlis does not hold a "key teaching position" at PCC, nor is she a "top-level administrator"---she is one of many instructors who are full time at the Cascade campus. Also, although she curates the PCC Cascade Gallery, others have held this position, as well (and there are still more that curate the PCC Northview and Rock Creek galleries). She is merely one of many arts instructors that PCC has in its (strong) program.

PORT would have more credibility on these important issues if did more than promote the friends of the writer. I wonder if anyone at PORT has ever worked on a committee with Jacqueline? If not, I wonder why you think she is a top-level administrator?

Posted by: HH [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 15, 2009 12:01 PM

HH...that old saw?

Actually Ehlis is chair or director of painting and drawing at PCC Cascade and the gallery curator (it was a plum position that many top local artist/professors at other schools sought, plus her reputation/ability makes it more key). I chose her specifically because she's very relevant and has been active in Portland's art scene for decades, not that she's the only person at PCC. But she is notable, she's taken the frankly off the beaten path Cascade gallery and made it one of the best and most adventurous art spots in the city to boot.... that's real cred and integrity (to be clear, other PCC galleries arent as adventurous or consistent). Yes PCC has a few other top level people like Mark Smith and Prudence Roberts. Let me clarify that "top level" in my terms is qualitative... not that she controls PCC's budgets but she does do admin work by virtue of her job. Frankly, I dont think RACC needs more bean counters, they can always use quality panelists who also understand the administrative angle.

Also, she's one of the most respected and best selling painters in the city and a product of Hickey's noted UNLV program, so yeah she's an ideal person to compare here.... the exact sort of person RACC should tap. And because RACC is improving they are already on it and asked her to participate.

The fact that we are friends makes no difference. Im friends with most high level artists in the city on some level, remove all of my connections from the discussion just isn't viable. The arts are all about connections and I'm open about mine. Frankly, I'm always coming at this from an insiders angle and very open about that.

The reason this is being discussed is because PORT the place where the nitty gritty gets discussed and we rely on our readers to check things out. To put something like this out quickly, while the topic is fresh it means there will be rough edges that get clarified, that's an important part of the education process on all sides.

We are credible because we get clarifications fast, we have insider experience and a lot of people read us precisely for those reasons. Think of PORT as a trade publication, not a generalist news source.

We want our readers to digest a sometimes rawer but sophisticated take, we aren't pre digesting it for you. How about a more productive question more directly related to CAN or Creative Capacity?

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 15, 2009 12:22 PM

As promised, here is a link to the 2008 Annual Report. Ive been familiar with this info for quite some time and my early impression didn't change upon further review today...

So, here's something to chew on and it's something I brought up to RACC earlier in private (and Ive been alluding to it here):

Also, this isn't a witchhunt so Im not going to single out names but looking at the two lists on page 30 under "Project Grant Panelists" (in my opinion) I see two pretty weak lists (in terms of visual arts) when you compare them to the Public Art selection panels listed on Page 30 and 31.

To me that is a source of a lot of grant angst directed at RACC by artists.

To me project grants actually require stronger panelists because they have to understand a conceptual proposal, which takes some experience and context to draw upon for each discipline. Now maybe RACC has already improved the project grant panels for 09?... but its a real issue.

Still, I wonder why the project grants don't have anything similar to the caliber of panelists for the the Visual Chronicle of Portland (pg 31 and very high) or the public art selection panels 30-31 (which look pretty respectable).

Still, this isn't a pile on RACC situation, just something I noticed... last year they funded some of the very best and very worst projects Ive seen in a decade. The good news is that the best projects were remarkably adventurous compared to other things I'd seen previously funded.

That issue aside, I want to point out that the CAN presentation was mostly about funding mechanisms not RACC. I believe improving and developing both sides is key to having a stronger support system for the arts in Portland.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 15, 2009 09:50 PM

I think this analysis misses the mark. Generally, the grant angst directed at RACC is from emotionally immature artists, of which our community has quite a few---i.e., the small-minded and reductive "why should I support you if you've never given me money", and the laughably insane person who posts the dog poop anti-RACC rants on Craigslist. These people are not worth considering, because they are not interested in learning from rejected grants or working with the people at RACC to make their applications stronger. In some cases, it is the proposed work itself that is the problem.

A better way of assessing the merits of RACC is to look not at the "caliber" of the panelists (an artificial and subjective measurement anyway), but at the work that is funded. Most of the project grants that were funded did have a conceptual basis. Many garnered reviews and other notices. I'm not sure what your beef with RACC is. Beyond a certain baseline of qualifications necessary to establish credibility (which doesn't include having been in the same room as Dave Hickey), who gives a hoot who the panelists are if the work that is funded is excellent and reaches a broad audience?

Posted by: HH [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 16, 2009 12:04 PM

Don't mean to burst anyones bubble, but when a public agency or department has a "public comment" or "town hall" style meeting, it's not so much to solicit imput and feedback, as it is to present what the particular agency plans on doing, Regardless.

Oh yeah, there may be a mic stand for audience members to make comments or ask questions. Many nods in agreement and considerations made. However, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of what will happen, the decisions (for all intents and purposes) have already been made.

The "comment period" is merely a formality. As you may have witnessed most recently with the 12 lane Interstate bridge, and the Memorial coliseum.

And oh those charts and pie graphs... Sorry to miss out on that party. Looked like a hoot.

Thank you for allowing me to comment.

Posted by: Sean Casey [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 16, 2009 12:35 PM

Sean, You are right... in fact most of the comments almost felt like plants, dull and asking questions about things the presentation had already outlined. I don't think it was the time of anyone's lives but it was good for rallying the troops for an important cause... and man does this post get hits.

HH: I agree some who complain are emotionally immature but it more fully misses the mark to consider all complaints as such. Some very good artists that work with RACC a lot are VERY critical of the panels in particular and because of my somewhat unique position I'm giving their concerns a voice. It's a hot button amongst very mature smart people with more RACC experience than I (though Ive served on 2 programming panels, been a finalist for the literary fellowship and acquired by RACC)... they know I'm airing this because it's important and Im acting as a kind of ombudsman.

Also, note I stated that last year RACC funded both some of the BEST and WORST projects Ive seen in my decade here... so I am following up on that inconsistency. Im pointing out the panel composition because it explains how we could have such disparate results. The BEST projects happened because the 1 or 2 knowledgeable people on the panel had to dig in. If the compositions were better more artists would feel comfortable proposing higher quality projects. Its a win win and a self fulfilling prophecy. Better panelists make for better and more consistently so projects. It makes the bleeding edge feel more welcome at RACC and that is a good thing. Once again RACC did an outstanding job with some of the projects last year but having heard what happened on those panels it wasn't because of the process, 1 or two panelists simply dug in. A better process would have more expertise... The Portland Visual chronicle has excellent Top Level reviewers... why shouldn't we expect something comparable for the project grants? Portland is brimming with smart people who know thier stuff, you cant seriously argue that panel composition doesn't matter?

Also, it's a paper tiger argument to focus on Hickey... that was just an example, though anecdotally it is interesting that Ehlis will be on a public art panel not a project grant panel.

Back on the main topic... Is anyone concerned about the education thrust of CAN? I think it's the only way to get it approved. Education is extremely important and partially that's why we started PORT... there wasn't enough informed analysis going on on a civic press level. You need to outline a base level for the discussion or else you get the "Where's my 10K grant" level of things festering.

I come from Wisconsin and their arts education is very strong there. When I lived there I'd do mentor lectures for inner city arts students... even though I lived 25 miles outside of Milwaukee at the time... it was just part of my museum hopping itinerary. The education thrust of the Creative Capacity strategy will make for more emotionally mature relationship to the arts in Portland.

That said frustration is part of being in the arts, remove it and you get Elton John's later career music vs. the early stuff. I think Frank Zappa and Donald Judd's constant sense of frustration with the status quo actually helped them become what they became.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 16, 2009 12:59 PM

The CAN proposal is more expansive than can be promoted on an arts-education platform. None the less, half of the funds raised should pay individual artists $500 a day to work in schools or after school programs. Portland Public School system has about 90 schools. So for example $5M buys about 122 artist-days per school. 10 artist days for an artist is a reasonable $5000 supplemental income. A better solution would be for both the 122 and $5000 numbers to be higher. If the program is expanded to the rest of Multnomah County and onward to Washington and Clackamas Count, the number of schools is multiplied enormously and the program becomes diluted in extreme. The other half will likely be divided among the large art institutions to offset student visit costs. So now is a good time to discuss a detailed budget.

Posted by: Criticaleye-notpen [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 16, 2009 09:24 PM

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