Oregon House Bill 3139-A sailed through a vote in the House of Representatives on April 18 with unanimous support. Two representatives, Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, and Sherrie Sprenger, R-Salem, were excused.
The bill, if it becomes law, would require the Oregon Arts Commission to more broadly define “arts” and to consider regional differences when considering grant applications. At least three agencies, the High Desert Museum, Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Washington County Museum, formerly the county’s historical society, recently have lost funding because the arts commission decided to define art more narrowly than it had in the past.
In the case of the High Desert Museum, the loss amounted to about $20,000 a year, surely enough to be noticed by those dedicated to keeping the museum’s doors open.
Museum supporters have pointed out it has plenty of art, including permanent and rotating displays. Moreover, its displays include folk art and information about the culture of early residents and later settlers.
The bill was amended in the House to specifically make curation of art collections and the creation of exhibits eligible for arts commission grants. That change should be helpful to the High Desert and Washington County museums, as well as to other groups whose focus is not strictly limited to the fine arts.
The requirement to consider regional differences makes sense. There are precious few art-only museums east of the Cascades, although several have arts and culture on display for the public.
The financial health of what’s here must be nourished to keep what is in the region thriving and accessible to all.
The arts commission does not oppose the bill. The bill was sponsored by state Reps. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, and Knute Buehler, R-Bend.
If the measure’s treatment in the House was any indication, HB 3139-A is on its way to becoming law. Oregon’s senators should see that it does.