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State of the Arts 

The City of Bend cut its Arts, Beautification Culture Commission this year. Where does that leave support for the arts in the City?

The annual Bend A Cappella Festival sings out for the arts. - LISA BELL PHOTO
  • Lisa Bell Photo
  • The annual Bend A Cappella Festival sings out for the arts.

Jenny Green has been in Bend for 24 years and has worked in the arts most of that time. She started the Jenny Green Gallery three years ago, a pop-up gallery that provided art shows around the area and around the world. Along with Rene' Mitchell and Kaari Vaughn, Green runs At Liberty, an arts collective that hosts local nonprofits and artists, housed in The Liberty Theatre, an old vaudeville theater in a space next to the Tower Theatre.

"I always think there is a need for more access to art. There are a lot of fantastic, creative nonprofits in town that operate out of home offices and coffee shops in town and they do such amazing work that they are often not seen as much as they should be," Green said. "Being able to provide them a space at a reasonable rate and then you get that awesome energy that flows from all those groups that work together collaboratively here, it's just fantastic."

A culture of support?

While the arts in Bend have had highs and lows, a recent decision by the Bend City Council has some in the arts community wondering how much the city supports them. Earlier this year, the Council voted to dissolve the Bend Arts, Beautification & Culture Commission, which in effect means the city now has $0 allocated to arts.

"The council is working to focus its efforts on core services and implementation of council goals," said Anne Aurand, communications director for the City of Bend. "Although councilors have expressed that they value the vibrant arts culture in our community, the appropriate role for council and staff at this time is to stay focused on our core services of public safety, infrastructure, community and economic development, and central services."

The commission's budget was actually taken away years ago, and the all-volunteer council has been footing the bills when needed — mostly for events.

"I came to ABC right after the money had gone away," Jenny Malone, ABC's most recent chair explained. "They had retooled [and we asked] 'how can we continue to exist with no budget?' So we scaled down to a few activities a year."

Those activities included City Walls, an art exhibit in city hall, as well as awards for various individuals and groups. Other events included storm drains painted by local artists and helping to get the sign code changed to allow for murals.

Malone worked through 2017 to revamp the goals of the commission and prepare for new commission members. The city even sent out an application announcement for new committee members at the end of the year. But then, city staff told the ABC committee they were no longer needed. 

"Even though we were all volunteers, we had no budget, their concern was funding," Malone said. "So the staff who supported us, they didn't want her to spend her time on it."

The one staffer helping the ABC took minutes and managed a few other administrative tasks at their monthly meetings.

"So we said we'll meet quarterly and the meeting will only be to basically compile this report that we will provide to City Council," Malone recalls. "And I was really hopeful that over time we were really going to be able to become a really integral, useful thing for the city. But in January I'm told by city staff that really the City Council should have gotten rid of this a year ago and they are going to now."

Aurand did stress that while the commission was inactivated, it could be reinstated by a future council. The City of Bend will also continue its membership in the Arts and Culture Alliance and will continue to appoint a city position on the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund Commission.

Art surrounds Jenny Green in the At Liberty Arts Collaborative. - SUBMITTED
  • submitted
  • Art surrounds Jenny Green in the At Liberty Arts Collaborative.

Challenges for artists

For those in Bend, the decision is another example of how difficult it can be for artists in Bend.

"Any community that changes as rapidly as Bend has changed, you will always find fallout with the artists," Green said. "And I think it is something we really have to try to protect because they add a tremendous amount to our community."

The City of Bend does provide a large amount of money to Visit Bend, which in turn is providing money for tourism — or any events that may draw visitors.

Visit Bend, a 501 (c)(6), is, according to Tawna Fenske, communications & PR manager, like a full-service marketing agent with only one client: the City of Bend.

"When the Hotel Room Tax got voted in in 2013, part of the commitment for that was funding for the arts, dedicated funding," said Valerie Warren, vice president of operations and policy with Visit Bend. "That money, by state law, is still tourism money, but what we did is we created the Bend Cultural Tourism Fund. That money represents 7.5 percent of the funding that we get from the City of Bend."

Because Visit Bend's grants are earmarked for cultural tourism promotion, its awards are skewed heavily on those bringing in people from outside the community, as well as those with events in offseason months.

The BCTF is managed by the 13 members of the Bend Cultural Tourism Commission and includes members from the tourism, arts and business communities. Malone, also on the BCTF board, wants to make it clear that the grant is not an arts grant.

"It's to bring people in from out of town," she said. "It is a tourism program. You've got a local artist who wants to have an exhibit, unless they can prove that it's going to bring people in from an hour away who are going to spend the night, they are not going to get it. It's not an arts commission grant, it's a tourism grant."

The current year grants will be awarded in June. Warren said they're expecting to give out around $200,000 total this year. For some organizations, those grants are helping them stay afloat. BendFilm's film festival is the largest event they have and helps them the rest of the year.

"Given the success of the Bend Design Conference and the Muse Conference, those are such fantastically-run organizations, they are now bringing in people from out of town," Green said. "It's also just enhancing our community so much, whether it's visitors or making Bend reap some of the benefit of our growth."

BendFilm and its fans depend on grants to stay afloat. - STEPHEN ADDINGTON PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Stephen Addington Photography
  • BendFilm and its fans depend on grants to stay afloat.

Growing the arts scene

Other organizations are working to grow the arts scene in Bend, including Arts & Culture Alliance. A collective of more than 50 nonprofits, arts organizations and individuals, the ACA was started in 2010 and supports the Sisters area, Prineville, La Pine, Crook County, Jefferson County and Deschutes County. It's funded partially by several operating grants from private foundations and the Oregon Arts Commission. Those grants have helped it pay for a part-time staffer and some part-time office space. ACA is also housed in At Liberty. The group has an economic focus, with the goal of helping other groups thrive.

Other cities are also becoming examples of what's possible when the local government supports an arts program.

"Redmond has a thriving arts commission," Malone, who's also on the ACA board, explained. "[The ACA is] working with them on some of their initiatives. A group in Prineville wants to start their own Art in Public Places organization. The city manager of La Pine is keen that art and culture be a part of their city plan development. So he has been talking to ACA about how can we help. We see ourselves as helping connect other people."

Examples outside Central Oregon

The Lane Arts Council in Eugene was founded by a group of artists in 1976, when the city was around the same size as Bend. Its goal is "providing arts education to youth, supporting artists, and engaging the Lane County community in participatory artistic experiences." It provides projects, including a Mural Tour, First Friday Artwalk, Community Arts Grants, ArtCore (a program to grow arts learning in schools) and artist residencies. Although the majority of funding comes from earned income and grants, it receives $71,000 directly from the city of Eugene, according to its 2016 Annual Report.

The city of Portland also has a similar program called the Regional Arts and Culture Council. RACC receives funding from both private and public sources, but its public contributions account for 82.5 percent of its revenue, or $7.5 million. Those public contributors include the City of Portland, the City of Portland's Arts Education & Access Fund, Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County, Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Metro and the National Endowment for the Arts.

RACC's goals and programs are similar to LCA's, and while LCA may be smaller than RACC, many in the community believe Bend should look to both as examples to learn from.

"We have governments to help people make the best of their situation of co-living," Malone said. "And that is fire and sewer and all of those things, and it's also why we all want to live in a place, and why do we all want to cooperate and exist together, and think about things differently, and explore the world, and represent who we are as a community, and also how do we learn about other communities."

Economic impact of the arts

In April, Americans for the Arts released the study, "Arts & Economic Prosperity 5" for the Central Oregon region, aimed at identifying the economic impact of arts & cultural organizations.

"They're looking at things like: You're going to a show, you don't just typically go to a show, you might go out to dinner before a show. If you're putting on the show, you might need to use a printer to print your postcards," Green explained. "What it means to be a restaurant owner if the Tower [Theatre] isn't here. There are economic advantages that I think have to be a part of the discussion, so everyone gets behind it."

The report was funded in Central Oregon by Oregon Arts Commission, with administrative support provided by Arts and Culture Alliance of Central Oregon through a Deschutes Cultural Coalition grant. AEP5 found that arts in Central Oregon generates $34.7 million in total economic activity. Of that, $10 million is created by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, and $24.7 million is created by "event-related spending by their audiences." The report found the industry also supports 968 full-time equivalent jobs equaling $18.5 million in household income, as well as $2.4 million in local and state government revenue.

According to the report, people who are attending an arts or cultural event in Central Oregon spend an average of $56.71 per person before or after the event on things such as meals, parking, souvenirs, babysitting and hotel stays.

"The results of this survey, and other research, prove that arts and culture have a significant impact on our local economy, tourism, and community well-being," the city said in a statement. "A rich arts and culture community, such as Bend, draws new industry to the area by appealing to CEOs and their workforce. Exposure to the arts by our children has proven to make them stay in school, volunteer in our community, and achieve their academic goals. Finally, a robust arts and culture environment retains local dollars by keeping our residents home for the creative experiences they cherish. The arts clearly builds community and Bend is a shining example."

The statement shows that the city seems to be in conflict with itself: supporting the arts in general, but because the city council does not have it as one of their goals, funding will no longer be available.

A Creative Laureate for Bend

In April, the city made a similarly-supportive statement by issuing a proclamation to introduce a new Creative Laureate.

"The Creative Laureate, presented by ScaleHouse, will serve as the official ambassador for the broader creative community in Bend," the city explained in a press release. "The Laureate will participate in community education, advocacy, and public events including speaking engagements and workshops."

The Arts and Culture Alliance will administer the Creative Laureate, to be selected by a committee. ACA welcomes applications from any creative industry, including writers, poets, designers, filmmakers, potters, painters, dancers and musicians.

"We will be the second city in the United States to have a creative laureate, Portland being the first," Green said. "That is something the city got behind."

There are plenty of arts organizations, nonprofits and individuals in Bend. The High Desert Museum recently hired an art curator; the Bend Tour Company provides an "art safari," taking guests on a tour of the art around the city; Scalehouse is a creative center that produces talks, workshops, exhibitions, performances; and there are dozens of nonprofits producing events like the Bend Design Conference and Muse Conference.

But many feel without support from the city, it will be an uphill battle to get to where the Eugenes or Portlands are at.

"I am saddened by the closure [of ABC] but I always feel like it might present itself as a fantastic opportunity, and if we could take this opportunity when Bend is doing so well and continue to make it do so well by adding in the arts," Green said. "I feel like we have done a great job with making this a beer town and a golf town and a mountain biking town, and we're kind of secretly an art town. I want the arts to rise up to that level."

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