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Brian Rogers

Nineteen months after the blood-letting at the Oregon Arts Commission and Oregon Cultural Trust, new initiatives are apparent, and the Trust anticipates a record high in grant making.

The OAC is a low-budget, high impact agency. The Trust – created by statute in 2001 – was an offshoot of the Arts Commission. No other state has an arts and culture funding program like the Oregon Cultural Trust, whose revenue comes from tax credits and custom license plates and whose giving is spread across the state.

Last December’s drama within the two organizations concluded with the firing of Chris D’Arcy, the OAC executive director of 19 years. Two commissioners resigned in protest – the renowned artist Royal Nebeker of Gearhart and Henry Sayre of Oregon State University.

D’Arcy’s replacement, Brian Rogers, was a Pennsylvania arts administrator.

Under Rogers’ aegis the OAC has held 14 listening sessions around Oregon. He has the commission on what he calls “a fast and aggressive time line” to produce a strategic plan that will be out in June. The Arts Commission has also rolled four grant programs into two: Arts Tourism and Arts Build Communities are now one grant concept, and Capacity and Operating Support are now one concept. Operating support grants now will be made on a two-year cycle, instead of asking an organization to apply every year. The commission’s membership has also become noticeably more culturally and racially diverse.

Governors are critical to the direction of arts and culture in state policy. John Kitzhaber signed the statute creating the Cultural Trust. Ted Kulonogoski’s wife Mary Oberst, was especially supportive of arts and culture. Gov. Kate Brown inherits Kitzhaber’s budget, which makes no increase in funding for the OAC. In a statement to Oregon Capital Insider, Brown reasserts her support for arts and culture and her appreciation for what they do for the economy. Kendall Clawson is Gov. Brown’s liaison to the OAC and Cultural Trust.

During a period of budget distress, the Cultural Trust became target. Eight years after creating the Trust, the Legislature swept $1.8 million from the Trust’s principal. That theft still rankles state Sen. Betsy Johnson who says: “Had I not been a legislator, I would have sued over violation of donative intent.” Johnson adds: “We have a moral obligation to give it back to the Trust.”

Johnson said that bills in the Legislature would give the Trust “more administrative flexibility.”

The Trust’s corpus stands at $25 million. ODOT has issued 124,757 Cultural Trust license plates.

Giving to the trust has grown by 4 percent over the past few years (last year $4.3 million). As a result, the Trust board will increase its giving by 4 percent over the $1.8 million it gave last year.

This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Insider newsletter. To subscribe, go to oregoncapitalinsider.com

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