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Tuesday 03.06.12

« Monday Links | Main | Helen Molesworth lecture »

Candidates and the Arts


Last night's Mayoral and City Council, arts and culture Q&A at the Armory (video here) went pretty much as expected, except that Mary Nolan and Jefferson Smith were not able to be present (Smith due to his work in the legislature in Salem). There was a lot of boilerplate and outright dodges but here are some impressions:.

Overall, none seemed that terribly different from one another except Brian Parrot, whose constant equation of the sports and the arts fell on deaf ears. Look I'm a fanatical tennis player and his equation of art and tennis makes no sense to me and I wrote the book on it. Also, his call for an Olympics Winter Games bid as a way to heighten the profile of the arts was also a non starter.

Lavadour_candidates_sm.jpg
City Council candidates and James Lavadour images

Surprsingly none of the city council candidates knew who James Lavadour was (major opportunity to score points lost, though technically he doesn't live in Portland)... I bet they do now.

All of the candidates (except Parrot) i.e.; Amanda Fritz, Eileen Brady, Steve Novick and Charlie Hales were staunch advocates of core issues like the planned but potentially delayed 10+ million dollar tax levy for arts and education as well as Mayor Adam's current call for diversity in arts funding. None seemed too eager to put the levy to a vote this Fall so the supposed key issue is a non issue. Surprisingly none of them wanted the be the arts commissioner with Brady, Hales, Fritz and Novick pointing out that another commissioner (probably Nick Fish) is likely most suited to that job. That is true but it also means that if Hales or Brady were elected, the arts commissioner's bureau wouldn't have the same profile as being in the Mayor's office. It would be crucial to know if Jefferson Smith would make arts and culture a personal priority like the current Mayor Sam Adams has? Yes there are pitfalls to having the Mayor as arts commissioner though... is the mayor's office too distracted by police affairs etc. to handle the arts? I don't think so but I did appreciate Brady's response that she would be too busy trying to grow the economic well being of the city to adequately do the job but would be a staunch supporter of the arts on the council.

Candidates_schnitzer_sm.jpg
Charlie Hales (L) and Eileen Brady (R) with arts patron Harold Schnitzer who passed away last year looming above

Overall, Brady came off as the most practical and tactical in that she spoke of the arts ecosystem needing growth in money, which is tied to job base creation. She is also the only one who seemed concerned that Portland was good but not great on both arts support and job creation. She saw the connections between patronage, civics and jobs in a way the other candidates did not. She's definitely the Portland don't be complacent candidate. Hales on the other hand kept referring to his extensive and tested record with RACC and the Oregon Cultural Trust. Both good things that still have a ways to go before they can be said to explicitly make a point of excellence... Portland tends to want to fund feel good community art but has a hard time funding excellence (in fact they avoid the word like the plague, probably because it sounds divisive). To be fair RACC and other funding sources have improved in the funding of adventurous, intellectually rigorous culture... but it's still the exception not the rule (Portland has the worlds attention for artistic excellence yet we still do funding like nobody cares). Would these candidates press for better standards, higher expectations and consistently higher quality peer review? PORT should just ask them some time in the future but my sense was Brady understands that higher bar having grown up in Chicago (the city with the best public art since Rome), Hales, Fritz and Novick would be more status quo (which is still improvement oriented) and Jefferson Smith we need to find out? (PORT should just ask some more specific questions of all involved, yes candidates consider that an invite). Everyone seemed to love all the TV and film production in Portland.

Of the group the most skilled politicians were in this order; Steve Novick, Amanda Fritz, Charlie Hales (who seemed more out of the current game than Fritz), Eileen Brady and way way WAAAYY back Brian Parrot a far distant last. Though Hales certainly seemed to have an edge in experience over Brady she did seem fresher... she came off pretty well as political outsider, her effectiveness being the big queastion. Novick is in another class all together, the sheer inanity of interjecting his love of classic rock into the discussion should have made him seem out of touch but with his skill he just seemed.. well a guy who likes to rock out. (I confess I think he should be Governor and would have been much better than Jeff Merkley in Washington... perhaps he's too good?) Novick was the only one of the candidates who seemed like a sticker for efficiency and better use of public money... he was also the most flaming liberal on stage. That is a feat! Might Novick be one to push arts funding to be more qualitatively targeted and quantitative? Brady might have that edge too... The fact is, arts funding can yield a tremendous bang for the buck and the most bang is begotten by handing even modest funds to edgy innovators who already do a lot with nothing. As I mentioned in my Portland Tribune Op-ed we dont directly support our alternative-spaces with operational funding, whatever they get is piecemeal and indirect. Give those people just $500-5k and you get way more return than giving to large established institutions. Hales wins points by actually having an artist opening at his campaign HQ, but honestly weve seen that before (very Adams-esque)... So which one of these Mayoral candidates Smith, Hales or Brady is the let's step it up candidate who can actually get things done? I want to see initiative, not resting on the laurels that tens of thousands of arty Portlanders have already achieved with scant institutional support. I want to see a plan for leveraging Portland as a creative catalyst.

Brady took ownership of the issue of patronage more than any other candidate last night. She pointed out how the so called Silent Generation (who happen to be great art patrons) are passing away (Jordan Schnitzer was mentioned by moderator Randy Gragg) and that our major institutions need to build up their endowments and retire institutional debt. She's right there and having a Mayor pushing that issue is a big deal. Hales seemed like he had the political network and experience but Brady seemed to understand how the Mayor as figurehead sets civic agenda (ie a dynamic Mayoral approach). Jefferson Smith's statement (read rather hurriedly by Gragg) was perhaps the best statement of the night... he stressed how he was brought up by Portland and felt a sense of responsibility for its continued success. It was mostly a feel good dodge. Overall though I felt like all of the mayoral candidates needed to hone their arts and culture policy a great deal, Fritz and Novick already had theirs down cold... and very familiar (more of the same) and frankly I want to see us step up our game because there IS a lot of room for improvement in the civic and institutional approach to the arts. PORT would like to ask a few more pointed questions of all the candidates to gauge who are the best arts and culture candidates, this Q&A seemed like a start and we are much tougher analysts. If there is a clear leader on the issue, the arts and culture vote will likely decide the mayoral election.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on March 06, 2012 at 13:13 | Comments (0)


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