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Cultural Conundrum 

Music and arts events round out Bend's outdoor tourism economy, but pandemic precautions forced most beloved events off the books this year.

Visit Bend announced in early April that it was putting future Bend Cultural Tourism Fund grants on hold. With transient room tax collections at an all-time low, and state orders forbidding large gatherings, the news came as just one more foreboding loss caused by the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.

Artwork in Tin Pan Alley in downtown Bend, funded through the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund. - COURTESY VISIT BEND
  • Courtesy Visit Bend
  • Artwork in Tin Pan Alley in downtown Bend, funded through the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund.

In 2019, the fund awarded a total of $200,000, divided among BendFilm, the High Desert Museum, Oregon WinterFest, Out Central Oregon (Winter PrideFest), ScaleHouse (Bend Design talks and workshops), Sunriver Music Festival, Tower Theatre Foundation, World Muse, Bend Photo Tours and the Central Oregon Film Office.

The BCTF is funded using 7.5% of Visit Bend's total annual public funding it receives from the City of Bend through transient room tax collections. Bend voters passed Ballot Measure 9-94 in 2013 which increased TRT collections. Visit Bend promised to use the extra money for cultural marketing initiatives such as BendFilm, which has attracted droves of overnight guests to Bend every October for the last 17 years.

"These funds are still there [in the bank] waiting to be reinvested," said Kevney Dugan, CEO of Visit Bend.

Dugan estimates that VB will have about $70,000 less to grant this fiscal year than it originally estimated, and $100,000 less next year.

Dugan explained that under state law, ORS 320, all TRT must go to promoting things that specifically drive visitors to the area, thus it can't give the grant money to cultural organizations for their operations, even though that could be exactly what they need right now to stay afloat.

He said while BCTF's marketing grants are the most common awards, it also has a Catalyst grant that supports "bold ideas that aren't fully developed," according to VB's website. Dugan pointed to OUT Central Oregon as an excellent example of the synergistic potential of this grant to benefit both the tourism economy while contributing to the cultural richness of the community. The organization used the grant it won in 2019 to expand Winter PrideFest and attract visitors from throughout the Pacific Northwest to Bend and Mt. Bachelor.

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