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Supporting arts and culture in COVID times

Blog Post
Local, state and federal governments have been stepping up to help the local arts community survive.
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Jeff Hawthorne manages Portland's City Arts Program. He is also a board member with the Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon and the State Advocacy Captain for Americans for the Arts.

With the vast majority of indoor arts and entertainment spaces having been closed since late March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our local arts community more than almost any other sector. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey reports that the country’s arts-related businesses and entertainment venues will take significantly more time to recover than other businesses, leaving too many of our local painters, writers, actors, musicians, poets, dancers and other creative workers without work.    

On a positive note, we have experienced lots of innovative programming and exciting partnerships over the past year and a half. Amazing performances and inspirational artistry have been showcased online, outdoors and in other socially distanced settings. I also know several artists who have used the time to create new works, and to reimagine what it means to be an artist in Portland.

In other good news, state and federal government agencies stepped up to provide extraordinary support for the arts community in a time of crisis. At the national level, programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and Shuttered Venue Operator Grants have helped many arts organizations survive, and the federally mandated expansion of unemployment benefits to include gig workers proved a lifeline for many local artists.

Oregon legislators have been investing in the arts and entertainment sector as well, more than most states, with $50 million of federal CARES money (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) in the summer of 2020, and an additional $50 million in American Rescue Plan funds earlier this year. I’d like to thank House Speaker Tina Kotek, Senate President Peter Courtney, Springfield Representative John Lively and Portland Representative Rob Nosse for their leadership.

The City of Portland has also directed a significant amount of its federal relief funds to support the local arts community, starting with $4.65 million in CARES funding for arts, culture and venues in the summer of 2020. And just last month, on July 28, Portland City Council finalized plans to allocate more than four and a half million of its Rescue Plan funds for community events, activations and arts programming, including $2 million to provide relief and recovery for artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, other artists of color and other underrepresented artists. Thank you, Portland City Council!

In the months ahead, the Portland Bureau of Transportation will be detailing its plans to invest more than $2.5 million in Vibrant and Inclusive Community Spaces, and we’ll be sure to pass along that information when it’s available. In the meantime, here’s how the other $2 million in relief and recovery funds will be invested:

  • $500,000 for residency grants and free space for Black artists to produce work and present public programs at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center. This is part a larger effort to re-establish the IFCC as a place for gathering and healing for Portland’s Black community.
  • $500,000 to procure and install Native-produced artworks in the Cully neighborhood, including a new cultural corridor along Northeast 42nd Avenue and the North Lombard Bridge Project. Collaborating partners will include the Portland Bureau of Transportation, RACC, the City’s Tribal Relations Program and community-based organizations like the Native American Youth and Family Center.
  • $500,000 for block grants to nonprofit cultural organizations led by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and People of Color for culturally specific artist programming in their communities.
  • $500,000 in direct support for underrepresented artists who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and People of Color; LGBTQIA+; and artists with disabilities. Grants will be administered by RACC, and some of the funds may be used to purchase artworks for the City’s Portable Works Collection. 

Stay tuned for more details about how community members can access these funds, and I encourage folks to subscribe to the RACC newsletter to learn about these and other opportunities as they come along.   

Yes, it has been a challenging year, and nobody knows this better than Portland’s arts community. Our musicians, actors, dancers, painters, writers and filmmakers are among the artists who are helping Portland remain vibrant, creative, expressive, passionate and resilient. Thanks to federal, state and local government support, we will do everything we can to help Portland’s arts community recover and thrive.